SDLP East Derry MLA Cara Hunter has said that victims of sexual offences deserve better than facing lengthy waits for their cases to be heard.
She was speaking after it emerged more than 70 sexual offence cases have taken more than five years to come before courts in the North.
Ms Hunter said it important that all victims are treated with the utmost sensitivity and expressed concern the lengthy waits could dissuade others from coming forward.
East Derry MLA Ms Hunter said:
“It’s shocking that after a victim of child sexual abuse bravely came forward to share her harrowing experience of waiting five-years for her abuser to appear in court we have now learned that over 70 people are in a similar situation, with nearly 200 cases still working their way through our criminal justice system over three years after they had become active.
“While we should expect every single case to be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible I am seriously concerned that these lengthy delays could further traumatise victims and also dissuade others in a similar situation from coming forward. We know how often sexual offences cases go unreported and we should be doing everything within our power to make our legal system as easy as possible for victims to navigate, waiting over half a decade for their case to be heard sends the opposite message.
“I understand the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on our legal system, but the reality is many of these cases became active years before the pandemic began. I’d urge Justice Minister Naomi Long to get to the bottom of exactly why these cases have become delayed for so long and to ensure that a plan is put in to tackle the issues raised.
“The Gillen Review acknowledged the unacceptable delays that exist within our legal system and called for a mind-set shift to combat them. We need to see all of the review’s recommendations implemented as soon as possible to tackle this and other issues around sexual offences. Victims deserve better than a lengthy wait for justice.”