Commenting on the newly published Implementation Plan for The Gillen Review into the law and procedures in serious sexual offences in Northern Ireland, Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said,
“The majority of reported sexual offences in Northern Ireland are committed against children, no child should be a victim of sexual abuse and we must do all we can to prevent this. When such harm occurs there is a grave responsibility on the criminal justice system to make sure reporting, investigations, trial and court processes do not exacerbate children’s pain and distress. It is clear from today’s publication that Government is seeking to address this.
“Sir John Gillen’s Review found that reform across the system was needed to properly support children and ensure they had access to fair justice and as a result he recommended our call that a ‘Barnahus’ type model in Northern Ireland be properly considered. I welcome the Justice Minister’s commitment by making children a strategic priority in the Implementation Plan and note that a working group which will look at taking this forward is to be set up this month”
Barnahus (which literally means Children’s House) is a child-friendly, interdisciplinary and multi-agency centre for child victims and witnesses where children are interviewed and medically examined for forensic purposes, and receive all relevant therapeutic services from appropriate professionals. Recorded interviews provide the child’s evidence for court proceedings.
Koulla continued, “This model would secure children’s best quality evidence, minimise the need for multiple interviews and examinations, reduce delays in children’s access to therapeutic support, address attrition and deal authoritatively with delays in proceedings.”
At the Commissioner’s ‘Time for Change’ event last year, Bragi Guðbrandsson, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and founder of Barnahus said that since its introduction in Iceland in 1998, twice as many cases of suspected sexual abuse had been investigated and the number of cases prosecuted, and sentences passed, has tripled on a yearly basis.
The Commissioner concluded, “I look forward to engaging further with the Department of Justice and agencies who work in this important area, as the timeline and action needed in bringing forward change for child victims of sexual offences are established.”
Also welcoming the publication of Gillen Review Implementation Plan, Natalie Whelehan, policy and public affairs manager at NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: “We welcome the publication of the Gillen ReviewImplementation Plan and the timescales laid out for progressing some of the key recommendations from the review.
“The review exposed many of the failings of the criminal justice system in dealing with child victims and witnesses in serious sexual offence cases and closely reflected the experiences of children and young people supported through the court process by the NSPCC’s Young Witness Service.
“It is vitally important that children have unimpeded and timely access to justice. The NSPCC looks forward to working closely with the Department of Justice and other key partners to greatly improve how the criminal justice system deals with serious sexual offences in Northern Ireland.
“We must ensure that children and young people are fully supported to access justice within a child-friendly judicial system and have their cases dealt with without delay.”
Children can contact Childline 24/7 on 0800 1111. Adults concerned about the wellbeing of a child can phone the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.