Change is our only option.

The justice system is failing

There are decades of evidence that the criminal justice system often causes significant harm to victim-survivors of sexual violence. This is not new, but it’s also not ‘old news’.

In 2020, a series of reports highlighted various problems that the Government have acknowledged require attention:

Listen to what victim-survivors have to say about the criminal justice system. Something has to change.

8 reasons we need legal advocacy

According to the Rt Hon Lord Justice, Sir John Gillen

  1. To rebuild confidence in the criminal justice system

“It’s one of the confidence building blocks so absolutely vital in re-establishing confidence in the criminal justice system for complainants. As I’ve said, I believe at the moment the message of injustice in the current system is deafening. We need to have these building blocks… A survey by the Victim Support Group found 80% believed that legal representation would have helped them in their case”

  1. It will give greater credence to complainants’ rights

“It’s necessary to recognise the triangulation of interests in the criminal justice system. It’s not just the State. It’s not just the accused. But it’s also the complainant as well.”

  1. Legal advocacy is nothing new or unusual

“It happens in Denmark. It happens in Norway. It happens in New South Wales. It’s in Scotland and Ireland, and so on.”

  1. Complainants feel vulnerable and powerless

“They feel like they’re collateral damage. They feel like they can’t go on with the process. And that’s why there’s a vast underreporting rate, vast dropout in the system that there is. I believe with the presence of a lawyer there, that that will help the progress of the case. Research suggests that independent legal representatives reduce secondary trauma, reduce the feeling of attrition that these cases generate.”

  1. It’s vital that there is advice on disclosing personal data

“I don’t know of any other area of the law except this, where your personal data can be looked at without you having the benefit of legal advice.”

  1. It’s vital that there is advice on evidence of previous sexual experience

“Again, I don’t know any other area of the law, anywhere, where I can delve into your previous sexual experience, without you having the right to a legal representative to represent you in the court.”

  1. It would save money

“That’s been proven in Ireland. You have legally trained advocates who will be there and who will ensure that questions are not rambling, that proper limits are being placed on what is being done in court, particularly in preliminary hearings.”

  1. The public support it!

“The public response to this was overwhelmingly in favour. We had 419 respondents coming back to us and our review – 90% of them agreed with independent legal representation.”

You can hear more about legal advocacy for rape and sexual offence victims, including Sir John Gillen’s full presentation, on this video seminar from the VAWG Research Network.