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Principles and prejudice: The erosion of fairness in admissibility determinations relating to historic child sexual abuse trials in Ireland
Ring, Sinead Mary
University College Cork
This thesis interrogates the construction of fairness to the accused in historic child sexual abuse trials in Ireland. The protection of fairness is a requirement of any trial that claims to adhere to the rule of law. Historic child sexual abuse trials, in which the charges relate to events that are alleged to have taken place decades previously, present serious challenges to the ability of the trial process to safeguard fairness. They are a litmus test of the courts’ commitment to fairness. The thesis finds that in historic abuse trials fairness to the accused has been significantly eroded and that therefore the Irish Courts have failed to respect the core of the rule of law in these most serious of prosecutions. The thesis scrutinises two bodies of case law, both of which deal with the issue of whether evidence should reach the jury. First, it examines the decisions on applications brought by defendants seeking to prohibit their trial. The courts hearing prohibition applications face a dilemma: how to ensure the defendant is not put at risk of an unfair trial, while at the same time recognising that delay in reporting is a defining feature of these cases. The thesis traces the development of the prohibition case law and tracks the shifting interpretations given to fairness by the courts. Second, the thesis examines what fairness means in the superior courts’ decisions regarding the admissibility of the following kinds of evidence, each of which presents particular challenges to the ability of the trial to safeguard fairness: evidence of multiple complainants; evidence of recovered memories and evidence of complainants’ therapeutic records. The thesis finds that in both bodies of case law the Irish courts have hollowed out the meaning of fairness. It makes proposals on how fairness might be placed at the heart of courts’ decisions on admissibility in historic abuse trials. The thesis concludes that the erosion of fairness in historic abuse trials is indicative of a move away from the liberal model of criminal justice. It cautions that unless fairness is prioritised in historic child sexual abuse trials the legitimacy of these trials and that of all Irish criminal trials will be contestable.
Historic child sexual abuse , Delayed prosecutions for child sexual abuse , Delay , Criminal law , Evidence , Law of evidence , Ronald Dworkin , Prohibition , Constitutional law , Recovered memory , Therapeutic records
Ring, S.M. 2013. Principles and prejudice: The erosion of fairness in admissibility determinations relating to historic child sexual abuse trials in Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.