PROSECUTORS in Northern Ireland have applied for the reinstatement of 15 sexual assault convictions that were quashed due to a legal error.
The 15 cases, involving 17 victims, were prosecuted in the Magistrates' Court and related to sexual offences between 2009 and 2017.
However, after the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in Northern Ireland were made aware of a 2009 change in the law that meant certain types of sexual offences could only be dealt with by the Crown Court, the convictions were set aside in 2020.
The PPS now plans to ask the High Court to quash that order and if granted, the original convictions will be restored.
Ciaran McQuillan, head of the PPS Serious Crime Unit, acknowledged the uncertainty and upset the 'distressing experience' had created for victims.
"It was with regret that we had to take the original action to have these convictions quashed when we identified the legislative error," he said.
"The High Court proceedings have presented an opportunity for the unfortunate circumstances to be corrected by a judicial interpretation that retains the ability to prosecute these offences in the Magistrates' Court.
"I am contacting the victims involved to explain the steps that will now be taken to reinstate the convictions.
"Whilst this is in some respects positive news, I must acknowledge that this was a distressing experience for the victims involved, many of whom understandably thought their case had concluded many years ago and who had moved on with their lives.
"I am grateful to the victims I have dealt with for their understanding."
In 2020, following the decision to quash the convictions, the PPS reassessed all 15 cases and determined that three met the test for prosecution in the Crown Court.
Proceedings were initiated, following which one of the three defendants sought a judicial review.
As a result, on March 15, 2023, the High Court quashed the 2020 decision of the District Judge to rescind the defendant's conviction, as well as the PPS decision to re-prosecute the applicant.
The applicant was then restored to the position he was in before the matter was brought back before the District Judge in 2020.
The proceedings in that case, as well as the two other live Crown Court proceedings, will now be withdrawn as prosecutors hope all 15 Magistrates' Court convictions are reinstated.