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Calls for groundbreaking changes to handling of serious sex offence trials

Retired judge, Sir John Gillen, has delivered what has been described as a “groundbreaking report” to the Department of Justice outlining changes that should be made to the way serious sex offence cases are handled in Northern Ireland.

The report is the result of a review initiated last year after the high-profile trial of Ulster Rugby players Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson, who were both found not guilty of rape. The nine-week trial was conducted in a court packed with the public everyday and was the subject of unprecedented social media activity reporting live updates from within the courtroom. The trial exposed some of the flaws in the current system when it comes to protecting both the accused and the victim, and challenges to safeguarding the principle of a fair hearing.

Sir John Gillen has made approximately 250 recommendations, of which 16 are considered “key” changes. Those include restricting who can attend trials involving serious sexual offences to close family members of the accused and the victim, and curtailing the extent of questions that can be asked about the victim’s previous sexual history. Sir John has said that 75 per cent of his changes do not require legislation to implement them, and could be introduced in a matter of weeks, though he does recommend that new laws be created to tackle the “dangers created by social media”.

A group has been set up by the Department of Justice to deal with the implementation of the recommendations made in the report, but it has admitted that there will be elements that will be delayed as a result of there being no devolved assembly.

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