Just eight people convicted of rape in Northern Ireland last year

Just eight people convicted of rape in Northern Ireland last year

Just eight people were convicted of rape in Northern Ireland in the 2020/21 financial year amid a significant decrease in court business during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) received a total of 1,568 files involving a sexual offence in 2020/21, a decrease of 6.9 per cent on the previous year, according to its latest bulletin. There was a sharper drop of 11.3 per cent in the number of files received involving an offence of rape, from 652 to 578.

Files received included a total of 1,664 suspects, 608 of whom were charged or reported for rape (a decrease of 13.9% on 2019/20) and 1,056 were in respect of other sexual offences (a decrease of 3.6 per cent).

The PPS issued 1,766 prosecutorial decisions, with the test for prosecution being met in 27.8 per cent of decisions, which included 491 decisions for prosecution or diversion from the courts. This represents a small decrease from 2019/20 (28.7 per cent).

In rape cases, just 11.4 per cent met the test for prosecution – up slightly on 10.8 per cent in the previous year.

The conviction rate for all sexual offences at the Crown Court rose modestly to 71.3 per cent, compared with 69.1 per cent in 2019/20. However, the report does not include a conviction rate for rape offences at the Crown Court because the “base number is too small to allow for the calculation of a percentage”. There were just eight rape convictions, down from 20 in the previous year.

Ciaran McQuillan, head of the PPS serious crime unit, said: “Cases involving rape and sexual offences are some of the most challenging the PPS and the wider criminal justice system deals with. Victims of these offences are often vulnerable and we are committed to doing all we can to support them through the process when they come forward and report their experiences to police.

“This has undoubtedly been a particularly difficult period as the justice system continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic. Although we have continued to make prosecution decisions, progress cases as quickly as possible and bring cases to trial, we know the inevitable delays across the system have been difficult for victims.

“These cases present well recognised and complex challenges and progress is only possible through a long-term and concerted effort and investment from all parts of the system. The PPS is playing its part in the collaborative effort to address these issues and improve outcomes for victims.”

He added: “Although change will take time, there is positive news within the bulletin. The number of decisions we have issued has been maintained despite the challenges of the pandemic. Although the number of cases concluded at court is significantly lower than before the pandemic, that is a reflection of the reduced capacity of the courts during part of this reporting period.

“As the justice system emerges from the pandemic onto a more normal footing, we remain committed to prosecuting these cases at their height where there is the evidence to do so, and working with our criminal justice partners to support victims and improve how these cases are handled in every part of the system.”

However, Rachel Woods, Green Party MLA for North Down and a member of the Stormont justice committee, said: “The fact that, in the last year, only one out of every ten cases involving the specific offence of rape resulted in prosecution is an absolute disgrace.”

She added: “I understand that these figures are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the fact that some courts were not sitting, but the overall picture remains deeply concerning.”

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