Justice Minister "very concerned" over Irish rape trial procedure

Protests will be held around the country today calling for rape trial reform

The Minister for Justice has said he is “very concerned” at the way rape trials are being handled in Ireland.

Charlie Flanagan was speaking as demonstrators prepare to hold protest around the country calling for an overhaul of the practice and procedure around rape trials.

It comes after a defence barrister in Cork commented on the type of underwear a 17-year-old complainant was wearing on the night she said she was raped.

This morning, Minister Flanagan told Newstalk that he is “very concerned at the practice and procedure surrounding rape trials.”

“Many rape and sexual offence trials have been very traumatic experiences for victims and those involved,” he said.

“I believe it is important therefore that we ensure that women firstly report a sexual assault and secondly feel comfortable and feel surrounded in the surrounds of the court."

Department review

He noted that Law Professor Tom O’Malley has already been appointed to chair a Department of Justice review group “in order to ensure that we can have best practice here.”

“If there is legislative change necessary then I would be very keen that we would set about doing that,” he said.

“But I believe it is more about the practice and procedure particularly in the case that you mention.

“I don’t like to comment on individual cases but it was a woman barrister that posed the question in that particular case which I found somewhat surprising.”

Protests

Protests are planned for Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Belfast this afternoon.

Solidarity Councillor Fiona Ryan, one of the organisers of the Cork demonstration, said the reference to the complainant’s underwear was “absolutely appalling.”

She claimed that “this is a very common everyday practice in cases to do with sexual violence, where character assassination ultimately is at the heart of defence.”

“We have done very, very little to encourage a more open situation that encourages victims to come forward,” she said.

She said the protests are about “highlighting and demanding action” on reforming the way claims of sexual violence are handled.

“This is not about re-inventing the wheel,” she said.

“Internationally we have seen governments move to institute reform on the question of where judges in particular get special training.”

Yesterday, Dublin TD Ruth Coppinger held up a thong in the Dáil to highlight what she said was a culture of “victim blaming.”

"We've seen recently clothes, fake tan, even contraception being used to discredit women,” she said.

"But the last Rape Crisis Network study estimated, at best, 10% ever get reported.

"And only one in 40 rapes have an appropriate punishment.

"How heroic do you have to be, Taoiseach? How much levels of fortitude to pursue a rape trial in this country?"

In July, the Law Reform Commission called for public input into the reform of the way the criminal justice system treats complainants.

The accused in the Cork trial was unanimously found not guilty.

With reporting from Kacey O'Riordan