Separate Legal Representation for Rape Complainants in Northern Ireland? The Contested Recommendation of the Gillen Review

Dr Mary Iliadis1, Dr Olivia Smith2

1Deakin University, Burwood , Australia ,

2Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge , United Kingdom

In March 2018, Northern Ireland was divided by the acquittal of four men for rape, attempted rape, exposure, and perverting the court of justice in what became known as the ‘Belfast Rugby Trial’. The outcome of this nine-week trial highlighted rape complainants’ ill-treatment in criminal trials and prompted an urgent need to review legal and non-legal responses to sexual violence in order to respond to the nature, gravity and impacts of this significant harm. In April 2018, the Criminal Justice Board commissioned a Review of the law and procedures in serious sexual offences, which was led by Sir John Gillen – a retired judge of Belfast’s High Court. Gillen’s preliminary Review set out an ambitious plan for reform, which included proposals for non-adversarial justice approaches, such as the introduction of independent legal representation (ILR) for rape complainants where the defence counsel seek to adduce sexual history evidence at trial. We argue that Gillen’s proposals for ILR may be well justified. However, drawing upon operational evidence from comparative jurisdictions, which reveal a need to address gaps in current approaches, we urge caution as to the unintended consequences of this reform.


Dr Mary Iliadis is a Lecturer in Criminology in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University and Newsletter Editor for the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology. Mary’s research adopts a socio-legal framework to examine, critique and impact legal policy to inform the development of appropriate responses to victims of sexual violence in criminal trials. Informed by international and comparative contexts, Mary explores the rights and protections afforded to victims of sexual violence across the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia, and explores how access to justice is negotiated for victims. Mary’s recent work focuses on mechanisms of victim participation in criminal trials and explores prospects for private counsel for victims. More broadly, Mary researches prosecutorial discretion and gender and family violence as a global crime problem. Mary also conducts research in the areas of newsmaking and digital criminology, and is co-authoring a book titled Criminology and the Media: International Comparative Perspectives and Experiences, with Dr Mark Wood (University of Melbourne) and Dr Imogen Richards (Deakin University).


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