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'They're on their own': Call for complainants in rape cases to have their own legal counsel

The Minister for Justice has said he will review legal protections offered to complainants.

THE HEAD OF the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has welcomed a forthcoming review of legal protections for rape complainants in trials.

Chief executive of the charity, Noeline Blackwell, told RTÉ that there is an imbalance in these types of trials and this means victims can be retraumatised by the process.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan told The Irish Times that he will review the legal protection offered to complainants in sexual assault cases, in the wake of the high-profile Belfast rape trial. An entitlement to legal representation for rape victims who are witnesses in the State’s prosecution will be considered as part of this review.

“For the most part in rape cases, the complainant is sitting there really on their own. The prosecution have a job of work to do,” Blackwell said.

“They produce the complainant as one of their witnesses, but the prosecution has to be very careful not to be seen to be favouring the complainant or coaching the complainant in any way in case it might be seen as trying to interfere with the accused’s right to a fair trial.”

“There’s usually only two people who are going to be able to give the main evidence as to the contest. On the one side, you have the accused, who in a rape trial is likely to be represented by really skilled, experienced advocates in the criminal law system – senior counsel, junior counsel and a whole legal team,” she explained.

A complainant in the Irish legal system does not have any entitlement to their own legal counsel.

Normally they will have little or no experience of the court system, they will never have been cross examined before, according to the reports we get from the people we work with and they are there, not really knowing what is coming at them with no way of helping them to ensure they give the best possible evidence to the court and they present it in the best possible way.

She said the enactment last year of the Victims of Crime Act means the State has a duty to ensure victims are not retraumatised by the court process.

“We know from out work in the rape crisis centre that people are retraumatised by it.”

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