A high profile rape trial in Belfast gave the public a better understanding of the court system, a senior Public Prosecution Service official has said.
In March, following a trial that dominated the headlines across the UK and Ireland, Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were cleared of rape.
They both denied raping the same woman in Mr Jackson’s house in the early hours of June 28 2016.
Blane McIlroy, who was accused of exposure, and Rory Harrison, who was charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information, were also found not guilty.
PPS assistant director Marianne O’Kane said the high levels of interest in the trial ensured a better understanding of the court system.
She was speaking on Thursday as the service revealed statistics for rape and sexual offences in 2017/18 which showed a rise in the number of files it received.
— NISRA (@NISRA) October 11, 2018
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.
The statistics also showed a drop in the overall conviction rate at the Crown Court in cases involving alleged sexual offences from 73.8% in 2016/17 to 63.8% in 2017/18.
Ms O’Kane said: “What I think that trial did was reveal to the public the mechanics of how a rape trial proceeds and allowed a more informed public discussion about the issues that we encounter in all rape cases.
“One of the benefits was that at least the public has a better understanding of how these cases proceed and the complexities in prosecuting and indeed defending those cases.
“I do take heart from the fact there is still a consistent increase in the level of reporting of complaints to police over the last year, and that’s a trend we see continuing.
“I think that is hopefully due in part to the awareness campaigns that we participate in and the public confidence that if they do make a report to the police, they can and they do expect to receive professionalism and empathy.”