Following the result of the Paddy Jackson trial, there has been scrutiny over the manner in which rape trials are conducted. In the past few days alone there have been demonstrations protesting the verdict and calls to reform rape trials so that there is more fairness. One clear voice of this concern comes from women’s rights groups in Northern Ireland. This movement included such groups as the Belfast Feminist Network, Reclaim the Night and Alliance for Choice.

The feminist groups have issued five demands, which would primarily aim at giving victims of sexual violence better protection in the justice system. These demands are: 1) Reform of the justice system which weighs in the defenses favour, 2) No reporting of sexual crime cases until their conclusion as it is intrusive, 3) the criminal justice system must address the “rampant culture of victim blaming and shaming”, 4) comprehensive relationship and sexuality education programmes should be introduced in all schools and should include consent and toxic masculinity; and 5) Support services for victims and survivors of rape should be adequately resourced.

Alongside this letter there have been other responses to the verdict. Demonstrations have occurred across the country protesting the vote. At a rally in Belfast outside the Crown Court itself, Clare Bailey, the Green Party’s MLA for South Belfast signed her approval of the above letter. She also iterated that she did not support anonymity for defendants in rape trials as anonymity will only prohibit others from coming forward. She also said that ‘the five demands will go far to address and change attitudes toward women across the island’. Meanwhile similar demonstrations took place across the country in Dublin, Limerick, and Galway, voicing support for the victim.

On the administrative side, justice system has made some small steps toward reform this past week. Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has promised to review the legal protection offered claimants in sexual assault cases. It should be noted that this only will apply to the Republic and not to the Northern Irish system as no equivalent minister currently exists. Mr Flanagan did in fact assert that there was a more robust system in the Republic than in Northern Ireland. However he shall still conduct a review over all aspects and decide whether further protections should be given. Mr Flanagan also said that the review would try to answer whether such cases could be initiated quicker. The government has also promised to update the national survey on sexual violence which was last published in 2002.

In Northern Ireland the government has also responded to the calls for reform. Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein leader, questioned whether it was appropriate for the accused in a trial to be publicly named and if the media should receive such unfettered access to trials. Ms McDonald was also quick to point out that it was a potentially dangerous course to question a jury verdict and also said that public condemnation of a justice system would undermine faith in the legal system.

Daniel Forde – Law Editor