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.