The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has completed a review of 15 sexual offence cases in which previous convictions had to be set aside after it was identified that a legislative error had caused them to be invalid.
The 15 cases, involving 17 victims, have now each been considered afresh by a PPS Assistant Director to determine whether at this time new proceedings should be brought. The review process began in late October and included extensive efforts to engage with the victims involved to establish their views on the starting of new proceedings. Once all of the relevant evidence and information was available the Test for Prosecution was applied to each of the cases.
On completion of this process, it has been concluded that of the 15 cases, there are three in which the Test for Prosecution is met and in respect of which proceedings will now be brought in the Crown Court. There are 12 in which the Test for Prosecution is no longer met and in which, therefore, no fresh proceedings will be brought.
PPS Assistant Director, Ciaran McQuillan, who conducted the reviews, said: “I am extremely grateful to the victims I spoke to for their positive engagement as I reviewed each of these cases. I can assure all victims that a sensitivity to their views and the experience they had gone through was at the forefront of my mind.
“The process to review these cases has now concluded and involved an application of the Test for Prosecution. This involved careful consideration of whether the available evidence provided a reasonable prospect of conviction and whether prosecution was in the public interest.
“I reached the conclusion that three of the 15 meet the Test for Prosecution, while 12 do not. I have written to all defendants and victims involved today to inform them of the outcome in their individual case.”
In all of the cases subject to review, the defendants had already been through a prosecution and were sentenced in respect of their offending. This resulted in one defendant serving a prison sentence and others being subject to suspended sentences or completing probation or community service orders.
The 12 decisions not to prosecute were taken on public interest grounds. Each of these cases was considered on its individual merits but some of the relevant considerations included the fact of the previous proceedings and outcome as referred to above; the nature and gravity of the particular offending; the time that had passed since the date of the offending; and the time that had passed since the original proceedings. Regard was also given to the fact that the setting aside of the previous conviction does not preclude the police from revealing, where appropriate, the circumstances that led to that conviction in any future Access NI check.
Mr McQuillan further explained that: “During the victim engagement process, a number of people indicated to me they did not wish to see a fresh prosecution, while others were supportive of new proceedings. I recognise fully the deep disappointment felt by those who did wish to proceed again and who were told today that this will not happen. I want to assure all victims, and the wider public, that each decision was taken only after the most careful consideration of all the factors relevant to each of the cases.”
Mr McQuillan recognised the support offered to victims by Victim Support NI and Nexus NI, through a care package put in place by the Department of Justice and the PPS in September 2020.
“We recognise that this process was distressing for those involved, which is why we worked with Victim Support NI and Nexus NI to offer victims dedicated support. This was taken up by a number of those it was offered to,” he said.
“I would like to provide reassurance that the PPS is committed to working with criminal justice partners to robustly prosecute sexual offences where the Test for Prosecution is met. We work to ensure that victims are treated with sensitivity and respect at every stage of the process. We recognise the bravery of all victims of sexual offences and we would encourage them to continue to come forward to report their experience to police.”
1. The review process was initiated after the PPS had to rescind the Magistrates’ Court convictions of 15 individuals for certain sexual offences between 2009 and 2017. This happened after the prosecutors became aware of a technical change to the law made in 2009 which inadvertently meant that certain types of sexual offences could no longer be prosecuted in the Magistrates’ Court, and could only be dealt with by the Crown Court. The issue was not identified by any of the parties involved in the progress of each case through the courts at the time.
2. The cases in which there was an application to rescind convictions involve:
14 victims where the relevant offence was indecent assault on a female contrary to section 52 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861;
One victim where the relevant offence was indecent assault on a male contrary to section 62 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861;
Two further cases where the relevant offence was unlawful carnal knowledge contrary to section 5(1) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885.
4. For media enquiries please contact PPS Communications by emailing PPSpressoffice@ppsni.gov.uk during office hours. Outside of office hours, the duty press officers can be contacted by calling 07920 271 804 or 07795 480 234.