I want to focus on the wording of subsection 2(4). In his Second Stage reply, the Minister referred to the manner in which court cases would now be held. He suggested this would radically change the approach to this crime and that was why successive Governments ignored the issue previously. It would put the spotlight on the victim, in this case the child. However, 1935 and 2006 are very different as has been acknowledged in nearly all of the contributions today and this seems to have been in the minds of the parliamentary draughtsmen and the Government in formulating this Bill.
Subsection 4 of the Bill states "it falls to the court to consider whether the defendant honestly believed that, at the time of the alleged commission of the offence, the child against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed had attained the age of 15 years". This does not specify whether the 15 year old admitted to being that age, the person charged asked the question or whether that person assumed that the victim was over 15 years of age without establishing it.
This subject has often been explored in this country and other jurisdictions. It brought to mind "The Accused", a film starring Jodie Foster, where the central theme was closely related to what is being discussed today. Ms Foster played a teenager, not a child, who, because of the manner in which she dressed, conveyed a certain availability. She was raped in the movie and it took the courts a long time to establish that she was the victim, despite the best efforts of the legal team representing the defendant in trying to convey that the way she dressed made her available for sexual favours.
I use this example because I have concerns about putting victims of 15 years of age into the legal spotlight. I would like the Minister of State to address the point made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in his concluding speech. He said there was a need to examine the structures, for example video evidence. The Minister of State, as a barrister, will be familiar with such structures, I am not. I seek assurance that efforts will be made to improve legal structures to assist the victim. Two victims in a recent rape case said that the system was entirely against them. The perpetrator had a legal team, legal aid, counselling and the legal apparatus that we take for granted in a system where one is innocent until proven guilty. However, none of this was available to the victims. They were not given the book of evidence in advance. They were not given the assistance they felt they were owed and they believe many other young women will not pursue cases through the courts because of their experience.
This is a highly emotive subject and I want an assurance that when this section is passed, which changes the practice of the past 70 years, there will be a pro-active approach by this Government to ensure that victims of rape are given at least the same treatment in the legal system as the defendant. The legal system should not work against them but should give them the opportunity to prove their status as victims.