ICCL Guide for Lawyers on the Victims Directive and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017

The ICCL Guide for Lawyers on the Victims Directive and the Irish Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 was published on EU Victims of Crime Day, the 22nd of February 2018. The Guide, drafted by Maria McDonald BL, forms part of the EU funded training programme for lawyers on victim’s rights which has been developed by the ICCL, The Bar of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland, with the support of the Victims’ Rights Alliance. The Guide has been translated by the projects international partners, the HRMI in Lithuania, the Peace Institute in Slovenia, APAV in Portugal and the Ministry of Justice in Hungary and will be adapted to the law in each of these jurisdictions. The projects associate partners are Victim Support Europe and PICUM. It is a free resource for lawyers and persons working with victims of crime within Ireland and the EU. The Guide on the Victims Directive and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 is available at Guide on the Victims Directive and Victims Act Feb 2018

 

#EU Victims Day “We’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go” Victims Rights Alliance and ICCL call for Ombudsman for Victims

22 February 2018

“We’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go”: victims’ rights expert on EU Victims’ Day

Today, on EU Victims’ Day, the Victims’ Rights Alliance (VRA) and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) called for the full implementation of the EU Victims’ Directive. To mark the date, the EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourová, is expected to make a statement calling on all EU member states to fully implement the Victims’ Directive and outlining infringement proceedings for states who have not.

The EU Victims’ Directive was implemented here on 27 November last when the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 became law. In a statement, Maria McDonald BL, founding member of the VRA, said:

“Having victims’ rights enshrined in law was a huge step forward for Ireland. However, a number of things remain outstanding, including the creation of an Ombudsman for Victims and the publication of Guidelines for Intermediaries. Intermediaries are specially trained experts who can explain questions asked by barristers and help clarify answers provided by vulnerable victims, such as very young children who may have been victims of abuse.”

Ireland is also obliged to make sure that anybody who deals with a victim of crime in the legal system is fully trained to do so. The ICCL and VRA marked EU Victims’ Day by launching their guide on the Directive and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, aimed at precisely this population. Ms. McDonald stated,

“In launching this guide, we are also aiming to open discussions on innovative ways to protect victims as they encounter possibly traumatic difficulties in the legal system. For example, in the UK, children who have been victims of serious crimes have been allowed to bring toys or pets into the witness box with them. Indeed, in the US, specially trained dogs are allowed to accompany vulnerable witnesses in court as they testify. Here, however, these examples of best practice are not possible because we arguably need to have Guidelines for Intermediaries published first”.

The guide on the EU Directive is free and aimed at anybody working with victims in the legal system. It complements the online course, run by the ICCL and VRA, which is taking place in conjunction with The Bar of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland.  Liam Herrick, director of the ICCL, said:

“We’re thrilled that, so far, 275 people from all sectors of the legal, political and enforcement communities, have signed up to our online course on the Victims’ Directive. This increased awareness of victims’ rights and needs can only improve the experience of victims as they interact with the legal system”.

The ICCL will facilitate working groups on 9 April on innovative ways to protect victims in the legal system. A representative from the Seattle-based organisation, Courthouse Dogs Foundation, will speak to members of the legal community about the impact that specially trained court dogs have had in the US.

The Victims’ Rights Alliance submission to the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland

The Victims’ Rights Alliance has provided a submission to Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland

The Victims’ Rights Alliance acknowledges that the Commission, in its Terms of Reference, has been tasked with several functions. The VRA submissions offer solutions to some of the policing challenges from a victim’s perspective. We focus on the necessity for leadership within An Garda Síochána when it comes to victim’s issues and the proper resourcing and management of an office which is responsible for implementing the Victim’s Directive and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017. Only with leadership, decision making structures, resources, communication between different departments within An Garda Síochána and outside of it and appropriate training for all members, will An Garda Síochána be able to evolve into an international leader on policing.

The VRA makes a number of Recommendation relating to:
I. Leadership in An Garda Síochána on Victim’s Rights
II. Cultural Shift – Management Structure to implement the Victim’s Directive and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017
III. The best ideas for change may come from within An Garda Síochána
IV. Garda Intranet
V. Victims Portal: Track-my-crime
VI. Training
VII. Monitoring: Statistics on the implementation of the Victim’s Directive and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017
VIII. An Garda Síochána should have a strategy and policy with respect to equal access to justice and protection for all victims of crime
IX. Governance Procedures: The establishment of a Victims Ombudsman’s Office

The VRA Submission are available at: Submissions to the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland – Victims Rights Alliance Public Version

Commencement of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017: For the first time victims have legal right to information, support and protection in Irish law

Today, the 27th of November 2017, the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, became law in Ireland.

Maria McDonald BL, a founding member of the Victims Rights Alliance, commented: ‘This is a landmark day for victims of crime in Ireland. For the first time, victims are legally entitled to the right to information, support and protection. All criminal justice agencies engaging with victims of crime, including the Gardaí, the Court Service, the Prison Service and the Probation Service, must ensure that victims get access to their rights or they risk being brought to court’.

The new legislation states that victims must be provided with information on first contact with the Gardaí. Victims must also be provided information on any significant developments on their case including arrest, charge, bail, remand and any other court date.  A victim has right to a copy of any statement they made to the Gardaí. The Act now permits all victims of crime to provide a victim impact statement, should they wish. Previously only certain victims could make a victim impact statement such as victims of homicide, rape, sexual abuse and assault.

A victim must be able to understand the information that they receive and that they must be able to be understood. The Act places an obligation on the Gardaí, the Garda Ombudsman, the DPP, the Courts Service and the Irish Prison Service, to ensure that any communication with a victim is in a simple language and it takes account of any disability that a victim may have.

Maria McDonald BL has warned:

‘This legislation is very welcome but a lot of work still need to be done to ensure that victims can access their rights under the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017. For example, the information leaflet currently being provided to victims by the Gardaí does not provide all of the information it needs to under the Act. It is also not written in a manner which can be easily understood by a victim.

The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 also provides that a victim can be accompanied by a person of their choice including a legal representative when making a statement to the Gardaí.  However, the Act does not provide for legal aid for victims of crime. Some victims may not be able to access this right as they cannot afford a solicitor. Government should consider extending legal aid to victims of crime so that they can access their right to be accompanied under the EU Victims Directive and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017.

Finally victims of crime do not want to have to go back to court to enforce their rights under this legislation. The Victims’ Rights Alliance calls again on Government to establish an Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to ensure that victims can access a quick, clear and independent complaints procedures’.

The Act provides that all victims must be individually assessed to ascertain if they need special protection measures. Children are presumed to need special protection measures. These protection measures can result in the public being excluded from the court room and it can prohibit the cross-examination of a victim relating their private life, not related to the criminal. Amendments to the the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, have not been commenced today.

 

 

 

Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 signed into law

Almost two years after entering into force, the EU Victims Directive was finally legislated for in Ireland with the signing into law of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017.

The Victims’ Rights Alliance (VRA), an alliance of victim support and human rights organisations in Ireland, welcomed the implementation of the Act and heralded it as a force for change for victims of crime in Ireland. The VRA have been advocating for the implementation of dedicated victim’s legislation in Ireland for over seven years.

Maria McDonald BL, Advocate and Coordinator of the VRA commented

The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 is a turning point for victims of crime in Ireland. The legislation offers an opportunity for the rights of victims to be placed at the heart of the Irish criminal justice system, a system which, until recently, has failed to adequately balance the rights of the accused with the rights of the victim. Now, for the first time, victims are defined in legislation and they have a legal right to information, support and protection.

The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 gives victims of crime minimum rights to information, support and protection regardless of their residential status.  For the first time, a victim of a crime will be described in Irish law as ‘a natural person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss, which was directly caused by an offence’. Family members who have lost loved ones as a direct result of a criminal offence are also treated as victims of crime under the legislation.

Ms. McDonald continued

‘We would like to acknowledge the significant amount of work done by key stakeholders on this legislation, including officials in the Department of Justice, Minister for State, David Stanton TD and former Minister for Justice, An Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald TD. However, where victims’ rights are not protected they need access to an effective, clear and quick complaints procedure. We call on Government to establish an Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. Only by listening to victims and dealing with their complaints can we rebuild victims’ trust in the Irish criminal justice system. An Ombudsman for Victims of Crime will go a long way to ensuring that the dark days of the O’Higgins Report are at an end.’

The Act provides that victims are entitled to information on first contact with the Gardaí, regardless of whether they have made a formal complaint. Any communication with a victim, whether oral or in writing, should be in simple and accessible language and consider the personal characteristics of the victim.  A victim can be accompanied by a person of their choice, including a legal representative, when making a complaint to the Gardaí, unless it is not in the best interests of the victim or it may prejudice the case. When investigating, the Gardaí are required to individually assess all victims of crime to ascertain if the victim has any protection needs or if they should be afforded any protection measures. If the Gardaí or the DPP decide not to prosecute, a victim can request reasons as to why such a decision was taken. A victim can also request a review of a decision by the Gardaí or the DPP not to prosecute. A judge has discretion not to permit the cross-examination of a victim about their private life where there is a need to protect the victim from secondary and repeat victimisation, intimidation or retaliation and it would not prejudice the case.  The Act also provides that all victims of crime can now present a victim impact statement at sentencing, should they wish to do so. Earlier legislation only permitted victim impact statements in certain types of cases, such as homicide, rape, sexual abuse and assault.

*Please note that due to time constraints the members of the Victims Rights Alliance may not have had an opportunity to sign off on this Press Release. On that basis this document does not necessarily represent the views of all the VRA member organisations.

 

 

 

Victims’ Rights Alliance welcomes the publication of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016

29th December 2016 – The Victims’ Rights Alliance (VRA) has welcomed the publication of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 today, which puts victims’ rights on a statutory footing in Irish law for the first time. The Bill implements an EU Law, the Victims Directive, which was transposed in Ireland on the 16th of November 2015. The Victims Directive provides for minimum rights, supports and protections for all victims of crime.

Commenting on the Bill Maria McDonald BL, co-ordinator of the Victims’ Rights Alliance, said: ‘This is a highly significant moment for victims of crime in Ireland. The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 will place victims’ rights on a statutory footing for the first time. We acknowledge An Tánaiste and Minister of Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald’s engagement with key stakeholders including victims support organisations which has resulted in the development of a comprehensive Victims Bill which transposes the Victims Directive and will change the way victims are treated within the Irish criminal justice system.’

‘For too long victims of crime have been overlooked in the Irish criminal system. This Bill will improve the day to day experiences of victims of crime In Ireland. We should highlight, however, that there will be difficulties in implementing the Bill. We cannot expect the criminal justice system to change overnight, a system which until now has failed to truly acknowledge the needs, rights and interests of victims of crime. A cultural shift will need to happen in order to ensure full compliance with the Victims Directive and the Criminal Law (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016. That is an ongoing process and the Victims’ Rights Alliance recognises the Government’s, the Gardaí, the DPP and other stakeholder’s commitment to placing victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. Their commitment is clear but it is essential that resources and training are provided to ensure victims’ have rights in practice not just on paper. The publication of the Bill is the first step to ensuring that victims of crime are treated with the dignity and respect’.

In implementing the Victims Directive, the Bill outlines how and when information, support and protection will be provided to victims of crime. It will enable a victim to be accompanied by a person of their choice when making a statement to the Gardaí. Key to reducing the incidents of repeat victimisation is the inclusion of a provision that a victim, who has special protection needs, cannot be cross-examined about their private life not related to the criminal offence. The Bill will also extend the principle of the victim impact statement (VIS) such that victims of crime, not covered by law relating to VIS, will be able to provide a written victim’s personal statement to the courts at sentencing.

You can hear Maria McDonald BL response to the publication of the Bill on RTE Radio 1 News at https://www.rte.ie/radio1/news-at-one/programmes/2016/1229/841699-news-at-one-thursday-29-december-2016/?clipid=2363173#2363173

ENDS