Susan Leahy and Margaret Fitzgerald O’Reilly,
Sexual Offending in
Ireland: Laws, Procedures and Punishment
(Clarus Press 2018),
ISBN 978-1-905536-93-1, 308p.
Dr Sarah Bryan O’Sullivan, Griffith College.
In February 2017 the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 (‘2017 Act’) was signed
into law and in doing so, a watershed moment of sorts was reached in the area of sexual
offences in Ireland, reforming and amending long outdated aspects of the law. In light of
the enactment of the 2017 Act, along with the passing of the Criminal Justice (Victims of
Crime) Act 2017, this new publication, Sexual Offending in Ireland: Laws, Procedures and
Punishment, is a most timely and much welcomed addition to the field. The authors, Dr
Susan Leahy and Dr Margaret Fitzgerald O’Reilly of the University of Limerick, have a
strong record in the area of criminal justice, criminology and sexual offences and this is
clearly evidenced throughout this publication. The book covers an impressive amount of
ground in a concise and succinct manner, while also providing important and thought-
provoking analysis, alongside beneficial comparative insight.
It has been stated that ‘our present law (substantive and procedural) on sexual offences has
developed in a piecemeal fashion over a considerable period of time’.
This is indeed the
case, and as a consequence much of the law in this area has developed into a complex
patchwork of legislation. This book presents the law on sexual offences in a manner that
cuts through these complexities and offers readers an accessible yet erudite overview of the
law as it currently stands.
The book is intuitively broken down into three parts. Part 1 of the book provides a
comprehensive account of the substantive law on sexual offences. Chapters 1 and 2 cover
the primary sexual offences, namely rape and sexual assault offences against adults. The
remaining chapter in Part 1, Chapter 3, addresses those offences relating to victims who are
under the age of consent or who have limited decision-making capacity. The consideration
given to the latter issue is particularly insightful, given that until the commencement of the
Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 this area was ‘the subject of much criticism and
was clearly not fit for purpose’ [page 91]. The authors go on to concisely trace the
development of offences against individuals with limited capacity and concludes
consideration of this issue by perceptively noting that ‘significant follow-up is required to
ensure that the new provisions are progressively implemented and achieve the right balance
between protection and respect for sexual autonomy’ [p. 102].
Part 2 covers the procedural aspects of the law on sexual offences. While this area of the
law has given rise to much controversy over the years, the authors do a stellar job of
outlining and analyzing some of the more difficult and challenging procedural issues. The
admissibility of character evidence, the corroboration warning and the doctrine of recent
complaint are considered in Chapters 5 and 6. Chapter 4 is dedicated to special procedures
in sexual offence trials that aim to protect victims from secondary victimisation. Of
particular benefit in this section is the consideration given to the reforms introduced by the