Rape groups want specialist training for judges
on 26/08/2013 00:00:00
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said there needed to be "rules of engagement" in the courts here, especially to protect vulnerable witnesses.
The cases in Britain have resulted in a top-level review in Scotland and new guidelines on prosecutions in England, including expert training of judges.
Scotland's most senior legal officer, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, has launched a review of the way rape victims are treated after Lindsay Armstrong, 17, from Ayrshire, committed suicide after an agonising court ordeal.
Her distraught father Frank said his daughter had told him "it was like being raped all over again". During cross-examination, Lindsay was made to hold up what type of underwear she wore at the time.
In England, the DPP has issued guidelines for prosecuting rape cases, including proposals that a group of elite judges be handpicked and given specialist training.
Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop, chief executive of DRCC, called for similar moves. "We would certainly support specialist judges taking these cases," she said. "We'd like to see it for barristers too, although we don't have much control over defence barristers.
"We need rules of engagement with these cases, especially for vulnerable witnesses, how they are cross examined. At the moment, there's no limit really. Anything can be brought up."
She said one positive change that had occurred was in situations where the defence want to bring up the victim's past sexual history. They have to inform the court first and the judge grants the victim, known as the complainant, the right to have a barrister present to deal with that issue specifically.
Ms O'Malley-Dunlop said that a forthcoming EU directive on victim rights should improve the rights of complainants.
She said there was currently no training of the judiciary: "There's no role at the moment on training judges, which is extremely important. We met Chief Justice Susan Denham to talk about inputting into judicial education training. We hope there will be progress. It's only at the initial stages but we are pleased that there was an openness by her to this."
She said if an accused sacks their legal team they should not be allowed to cross-examine the victim and should be obliged to hire another team.
She said no one wanted to interfere with the rights of an accused, including the right to a fair trial.
"What we see is that the rights of the victim seem to have no place at all. We really need to redress that in a way that still maintains the rights of the accused."
* National 24-hour helpline: 1800 77 88 88; Samaritans: 1850 60 90 90