Fianna Fáil Seanad Spokesperson on Justice, Children and Youth Affairs, Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee has said that the existing law surrounding sexual offence trials should be amended to allow rape complainants access to their own legal representation.

In light of the degree of public concern raised following a recent high profile case in Northern Ireland, Fianna Fáil will be progressing with legislation to amend the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, when the Dáil returns on Tuesday, April 17th.

Senator Clifford-Lee said, “Some legitimate concerns have been raised over the past number of days regarding how trials of this nature are conducted and whether there is enough support in place for complainant(s) during a trial for a sexual offence.

“As it stands in Ireland a complainant in a rape trial has a limited right to representation in court. It’s my belief that should we move towards adopting the process as is already in place in France or Belgium where a complainant is legally represented for the duration of the case; cross-examination could prove less hostile towards a complainant and encourage more victims to report a sexual offence.

“Our legislation to amend the Criminal Justice Act will allow a complainant to apply for their own State funded legal representation during a trial involving a sexual offence if their interests are not being adequately being protected by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“That said, while it is hugely crucial that we address the need to strengthen the level of available support for complainants during trial, at no time can we undermine the right of the accused to provide a strong defence.

“The Minister’s commitment to review the trial process falls short of adequately supporting those facing into a trial as a complainant in the near or foreseeable future. It ultimately puts the prospect of extending the provision of legal representation in these cases.

She concluded, “These changes must be swiftly introduced and I am working closely with my colleague and front bench Justice Spokesperson, Jim O’Callaghan TD to bring forward this legislation following the Oireachtas recess.”