12 sex offenders whose convictions were rescinded will not be prosecuted again

Twelve of 15 sex offenders whose convictions were rescinded due to a Government error in drafting law changes will not be re-prosecuted.

Prosecutors in Northern Ireland announced that the test for prosecution has been met for three of the individuals, and fresh cases will now be brought in the Crown Court.

The 15 cases relate to convictions for indecent assault and unlawful carnal knowledge involving 17 victims, 11 of whom were children at the time of the offences.

All the defendants were tried in magistrates’ courts in Northern Ireland between 2009 and 2017. The offences were committed between 1973 and 2009.

The convictions will be ruled invalid after it was discovered that a mistake was made in legislation introduced in 2009 as part of reforms of the criminal law relating to sexual offences.

Prosecutors reviewed all 15 cases after the gaffe was identified. The process involved engagement with the victims.

Sex Offenders register error
Sex Offenders register error

PPS assistant director Ciaran McQuillan, who carried out the reviews, said: “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.”

Mr McQuillan highlighted that all the offenders had been previously sentenced in respect of their crimes.

He said this resulted in a range of punishments, from prison and suspended sentences to probation or community service.

Mr McQuillan said the 12 decisions not to prosecute were taken on public interest grounds.

He said relevant considerations in the decisions included the outcome of the previous proceedings, the nature and gravity of the offences, the time that had passed since the crimes, and the time that had passed since the original proceedings.

He said regard was also given to the fact that the setting aside of the previous conviction did not prevent the police providing relevant information to Access NI checks.

“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,” said Mr McQuillan.

“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.”

The error that prompted the rescinding of the various convictions saw three specific offences removed from the list of those that can be heard before magistrates’ courts in Northern Ireland.

The mistake was made under the watch of the UK Government, as it happened before the devolution of justice powers to the Stormont Executive in 2010.

As the error was inadvertent, none of the criminal justice agencies or relevant legal bodies in Northern Ireland were informed and they continued to deal with cases as they had previously, assuming the offences could still be dealt with by a magistrate.

That meant prosecutors opted to try the defendants in magistrates’ courts – with the consent of all 15 – at a time when the incorrectly drafted legislation dictated the cases could only be heard in a crown court.

As part of the review process, the views of the victims in these cases were sought and PPS Assistant Director Ciaran McQuillan, who carried out the reviews, paid tribute to them. https://t.co/gqSbrGMkt9pic.twitter.com/0gPf18vFQ9

— Public Prosecution Service (@thePPSNI) December 3, 2020

The gaffe in the 2009 law inadvertently introduced a technical change that meant cases under Sections 52 and 62 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and Section 5(1) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 could no longer be prosecuted in magistrates’ courts.

The convictions that were rescinded involved:

– 14 victims of indecent assault on a female contrary to Section 52 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861;

– One victim of indecent assault on a male contrary to Section 62 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861;

– Two victims of unlawful carnal knowledge contrary to Section 5(1) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885.