Tyrone judge faces formal complaint from MLA over remarks in sex trial
A member of the Northern Ireland Assembly has submitted a formal complaint to the Lady Chief Justice in connection with remarks made by a judge during a sexual assault hearing.
The complaint centres on comments made by Judge Brian Sherrard KC in Dungannon Crown Court as he was sentencing a man who admitted to sexually assaulting a woman he had met online.
The court heard that the man had 67 previous offences, some of which related to domestic abuse.
Judge Sherrard sentenced the man to four-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and made a sexual offences prevention order for a seven-year period, but declined to ban him from contacting women online.
He said the 36-year-old defendant was “still young” and his punishment would not “stop you moving on with your life in a more productive way, finding work or finding a wife or partner, getting a family and a home”.
In a statement, Ms Dillon said: “I have made a formal complaint to the Lady Chief Justice, following remarks made by a judge during a sexual assault hearing.
“The comments, encouraging the defendant to go out and ‘find a wife or partner and get a family and a home together’ and the refusal to ban him from contacting women online are simply astonishing. Especially when the defendant has so many previous offences, and there has been an acknowledgement of a recent escalation in his offending.
“Rehabilitation is an important aspect of the criminal justice system, however, it is vital that the judiciary are trained to be aware of the many layers of men’s violence against women and girls. The criminal justice system must play their part in eradicating harmful myths and attitudes about domestic abuse and sexual assault.”
Separately, Rachel Woods, a Green Party councillor and chair of Ards and North Down Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP), said the comments had damaged victims’ confidence in the criminal justice system.
“This case just shows how important training and knowledge of domestic abuse is across our society and within the legal system itself, and how much further we have to go as a society,” she said.
“I welcome that through the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, criminal justice agencies will have to receive training, but it must be extended across the board. We desperately need a Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy in Northern Ireland and we must have confidence in the justice system to deliver for victims.”
The Lady Chief Justice’s Office has been contacted for comment.