'I presume she wanted it to happen’: Rape, Reasonable Belief in Consent, and Law Reform in Northern Ireland

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Abstract

In Northern Ireland (NI), determinations of whether the crime of rape has occurred require consideration of the accused’s reasonable belief in the complainant’s consent (the ‘reasonable belief threshold’). Drawing on the rich body of feminist scholarship critiquing this threshold, this paper makes two core contributions. First, through a thematic analysis of trial transcripts and news reports from the high profile 2018 ‘Rugby Rape Trial’ in NI, the paper illustrates how trial narratives around consent and reasonable belief in consent ‘responsibilise’ the complainant while minimising the (in)actions of the accused. Second, the paper evaluates the proposal in the 2019 Gillen Review that this threshold should be reworded to take account of the accused’s failure to take steps to ascertain the complainant’s consent. It is argued that while this proposal has the potential to subtly redistribute narratives of responsibility, such potential can only be realised through a change in prosecutorial practice to ensure attention to the ‘steps to ascertain consent’ provision.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
JournalNorthern Ireland Legal Quarterly
Publication statusAccepted - 11 Nov 2021

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