DUP Lagan Valley MLA and Chair of the Assembly’s Justice Committee Paul Givan has called on the Minister of Justice to urgently investigate the actions that led to the convictions of fifteen individuals charged with sexual offences in Northern Ireland being rescinded.
Responding to the announcement by the Public Prosecution Service, which blamed ‘legislative error,’ Mr Givan said:
‘‘These revelations are both serious and startling and something I will be asking the Justice Committee to consider.
It is deeply wrong that seventeen different victims and families will today be coming to terms with the news that the convictions of those found guilty of causing them great harm are no longer valid. That victims who have already followed due process at great personal cost and strain should be retraumatised in this way is morally unacceptable.
The origins of this mess rest in legislation made in 2009 which wrongly removed the relevant offences from a list of crimes to be tried in the Magistrates Court. It isn’t enough for the Department of Justice to simply say this error in the law was technical and unintentional. It has had tangible consequences and there needs to be accountability, including a full and rigorous investigation into what happened and those involved.
Victims of sexual offences and indeed all crime desperately need and deserve a criminal justice system that is reliable, robust and fit for purpose. It is vital that checks and balances are put in place to prevent such a disturbing error from happening again.
There is a firm onus on prosecutors to now initiate fresh proceedings against those benefiting from this loophole. Not only is this in the public interest but it is essential to redress harm and give closure to those individuals directly affected. Lessons must be learned and justice must be done as well as seen to be done.’’