Conviction rate for rape and sex crimes drop over past year

By Rebecca Black

The conviction rate for sexual offences in Northern Ireland has dropped in the last year.

The latest statistics released by the Public Prosecution Service show that 224 defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court in cases involving alleged sexual offences.

The overall conviction rate at the Crown Court in these cases has dropped from 73.8% in 2016/17 to 63.8% in 2017/18.

Sixty defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court for an alleged offence of rape in 2017/18.

Of these, 45% were convicted of at least one offence (ie, any offence), while 15% were convicted of an offence of rape.

Meanwhile the PPS saw an increase in the number of reports of allegations of sexual offences during 2017/18 compared with the previous year.

The PPS received 1,587 files in 2017/18 involving an alleged sexual offence. This was an increase of 21% on 2016/17 (1,312).

There was a rise of 34.2% in the number of files received involving an alleged rape offence, from 395 to 530.

PPS assistant director Marianne O'Kane said there were significant challenges in prosecuting these types of cases.

She said by comparison the PPS's overall conviction rates for all offences in the Crown Court is 85%.

Ms O'Kane also cautioned that two years of data following the second annual PPS Statistical Bulletin: Cases involving Sexual Offences, is not a long enough period to demonstrate a trend.

"It is universally recognised there are significant challenges in prosecuting these types of cases," she said.

"Over the last three years the PPS has established a dedicated team of senior public prosecutors who have worked closely with our partners to ensure consistency in best practice procedures to build cases, support victims and ensure that prosecutions are brought robustly, but fairly.

"Against this backdrop we are seeing a significant increase in both the complexity and the volume of cases.

"We consider that a broad criminal justice perspective, combined with inputs from wider society, will be key to achieving positive change.

"On this basis, we fully support and are contributing to the independent review being undertaken by Sir John Gillen.

"We look forward to hearing the considered responses when his findings are published.

"In the meantime, we are committed to continuing our work to engage actively with partners in criminal justice and with representatives of victims."

Ms O'Kane added: "In publishing this bulletin today, our aim is to be as open and transparent as possible and to make a positive contribution to the ongoing public debate about the challenges these cases present.

"In our view it is vitally important to build an understanding of the PPS approach to dealing with these cases as part of any examination as to how they are handled within the wider justice system.

"Finally, I want to take this opportunity to reassure all victims that at all times we will treat you with respect and sensitivity and that you can be assured of a first class prosecution service."

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