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

Press Release: DELAY OF IRISH GOVERNMENT TO IMPLEMENT EU VICTIMS DIRECTIVE IS IMPACTING ON THE RIGHTS, NEEDS & INTERESTS OF VICTIMS OF CRIME IN IRELAND

 

  • Delay in implementing legislation to give effect to the Victims Directive
  • Garda leaflet for victims of crime does not fully comply with EU Victims Directive
  • Lack of information for victims available through key stakeholders such as hospitals and GP surgeries
  • Access to shelters/emergency accommodation can be limited based on the victim’s residence
  • Concerns over the quality and confidentiality of interpreters and translators
  • Lack of funding to support advocacy services for victims’ rights

16th November – Today marks one year since the EU Victims Directive became law in Ireland, however the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill has not been published to date and failure to implement legislation is impacting on the rights, needs and interests of victims of crime.

Commenting about the delayed legislation, Maria McDonald BL, Coordinator of the Victims’ Rights Alliance, said:  “The Victims Directive must be transposed by legislation so that victims can access to their rights in full.  It is a highly significant moment as it gives minimum rights, supports and protections to all victims of crime for the first time in Irish law.  Despite being aware of the deadlines for the implementation of the Victims Directive into Irish law, the Government is over a year late publishing legislation. However, we would like to acknowledge that the publication of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill is due to be published in the coming weeks. We would ask that once published the Bill would have a swift passage through the Dáíl and Seanad so that victims are able to access their rights within the Bill as soon as possible”.

“Victims of crime have often gone through a traumatic experience and it is vital that they informed of their rights and about the services they can access. Some victims do not want to report the crime and they are entitled to the right to information and support services notwithstanding that they do not make a formal complaint to the Gardaí.  Unfortunately as things stand, the local authorities “Centre of Interest” requirement is arguably in breach of the Victims Directive. For example, access to emergency accommodation/housing can be limited based on the residence of the victim. This is particularly difficult for victims forced to leave locations because they are victims of a crime, such as domestic violence. We call on local authorities to remove the “Centre of Interest” requirement as a matter of urgency”

“We welcome an Tánaiste’s continued engagement with us, having received a briefing on the Victims of Crime Bill earlier this week, but we call upon the Government to ensure a speedy passage of the Bill once published.  We look forward to working and engaging with Government, the Gardaí and other key stakeholders to ensure the effective implementation and transposition of the Victims Directive into Irish law.”

The Victims’ Rights Alliance welcomes an Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald’s continued commitment to implementing the Victims Directive into Irish law and acknowledges the imminent publication of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill, which will legislate for victims’ rights for the first time in Irish law. Key stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including an Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Courts Service and the Irish Prison Service have been working since 16th November 2015 to implement the Directive into Irish law.

The Victims’ Rights Alliance would like to acknowledge that over the course of the last year the Office of the DPP has provided reasons and a review of a decision not to prosecute in line with their obligations under the Victims Directive.

The Victims’ Rights Alliance welcomes the positive measures which the Gardaí have implemented to give effect to the Victims Directive, which includes the publication of the Garda leaflet and the establishment of the Garda Victim Liaison Offices. However, the Victims’ Rights Alliance is concerned that in its current format the Garda leaflet, which provides information to victims, does not fully comply with the Victims Directive. We acknowledge that the Gardaí intend to update the leaflet and their website; however, the delay in doing so has meant that some victims do not have access to information, such as information on support services which they are legally entitled to.

Victims can only access their rights if they are told about them. All victims of crime are entitled to certain information about their rights on first contact with the Gardaí. The Victims’ Rights Directive also envisages that other key agencies would provide information to victims of crime. For example, some victims may choose not report a crime, but they seek medical attention in hospital or with their GP. Information should be available in hospitals and GP surgeries on how a victim can access information, support and protection and how they go about making a complaint to the Gardaí.

The Victims Directive requires that all victims of crime have access to victim’s support services free of charge for a period, before during and after criminal proceedings. This includes access to support services which provide information, advice and support relevant to the rights and needs of victims of crime. It also includes access to counselling and shelters. Victims of crime who do not report a crime to an Garda Síochána also have a right to these services. The local authorities ‘centre of interest criteria’ for victims to be able to access support services is arguably in contravention of the Victims Directive. The Victims’ Rights Alliance is aware of instances where women have been turned away from shelters based on that fact that they do not reside in that location. This is particularly difficult for women forced to leave locations because of domestic violence. We call on local authorities to remove the “Centre of Interest” requirement as a matter of urgency.

The Victims’ Rights Alliance welcomes the increase in Budget 2017 of €250,000 for victims support services, but points out that this amounts to €4,630 per organisation. The Victims’ Rights Alliance is disappointed that currently there is a small amount of funding available to support advocacy services for all victim of crime, which advocate for the rights, needs and interests of all victims of crime. These advocacy services can provide information, advice and support relevant to the rights, needs and interests of victims of crime. The Victims Directive requires that these support services are available to victims of crime and the Government should fund them.

The Victims’ Rights Alliance has concerns about the quality and confidentiality of the service provided by some interpreters and translators to victims of crime. The Victims’ Rights Alliance is working with the Irish Translators and Interpreters Association to raise awareness of the need for such services to be provided in an impartial, respectful, confidential and professional manner.

Article 21 of the Victims Directive recognises a victim’s right to privacy. Ireland is under an obligation to establish appropriate ‘conditions to enable the referral of victims to victim support services, including by ensuring that data protection requirements can be and are adhered to’. The Victims’ Rights Alliance calls on the Government, Tulsa, the HSE and other state agencies to ensure that all data gathered, retained, obtained in relation to victims of crime adhere to data protection law and best practice. Critical to good data protection compliance that respect victims of crimes’ right to privacy is the relationship between various state agencies and between statutory and non-statutory agencies. Any data sharing in the victim’s or public interest must be proportionate and appropriate and always with due regard to the law and victim’s’ rights. The Victims’ Rights Alliance also acknowledges that its own members have an obligation to ensure that data relating to victims of crime adheres to data protection requirements.

ENDS

The views set out in this report do not necessarily reflect those of all member organisations of the Victims Rights Alliance.

Developing an EU Training Module for the Victims Directive

The Victims’ Rights Alliance along with other key stakeholders are engaging with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to help identify training needs for lawyers on the needs, rights and interests of victims of crime.

BACKGROUND

The project is funded by the European Commission and is intended to support the training of European lawyers, prosecutors and the judiciary (if appropriate in the Member State) on the needs and rights of victims of crime as provided for by Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime (hereinafter the “Victims’ Directive”). It is envisaged that the delivery of training on the provisions of the Victims’ Directive will contribute to the successful implementation of the legislation.

This project will greatly increase victims’ access to justice in criminal proceedings by focusing on the training of stakeholders who have a key role to play in implementing the Directive.

PROJECT PARTNERS

Spanning five jurisdictions across the EU, the project will be led by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) (key member of the Victims’ Rights Alliance [VRA]), in conjunction with partner organisations, the Bar Council of Ireland, the Law Society of Ireland, APAV (Portugal), Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) (Lithuania), the Peace Institute (Slovenia), the Department of Justice, Hungary. In addition, associate partner organisations the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) and Victim Support Europe (VSE) will lend their specific expertise to the project group.

THE AIM OF THE PROJECT

The core objective of the project is the provision of training in line with Article 25 (3) of the Victims Directive which provides that ‘with due respect for the independence of the legal profession, Member States shall recommend that those responsible for the training of lawyers make available both general and specialist training to increase the awareness of lawyers of the needs of victims’.

The provision of training, guidance and best practice methodologies will raise awareness and understanding of the rights afforded to victims under the Victims’ Directive.

This project will be delivered through active engagement and multi-agency partnership with key stakeholders within the five criminal justice systems.

PROJECT ACTIVITIES

The project will be centred on a training programme, involving lawyers across all jurisdictions (and other key criminal justice stakeholders depending on the country concerned). The training programme will first be delivered in Ireland and subsequently modified to enable delivery relevant to the legal systems in Portugal, Lithuania, Slovenia and Hungary. Training materials will be developed, including an e-template course, and towards the end of the project lifespan, a report will be produced demonstrating the impact of the training.

To ensure the training methodologies meet best practice standards, the project partners will conduct a needs assessment across each jurisdiction to identify specific training needs. This comparative mapping is a crucial step to ensure that the training programme is relevant, and that it will address actual knowledge and skills gaps. The development of best practice methodologies, will assist in the consistent and coherent application of a best practice training model across Europe. The Commission will be provided with a document identifying training needs in these five jurisdictions.

The Irish set up is imperative to the integrity and success of the training model as the roll out of the training across the partner jurisdictions and the development of the e-template course will be predicated on a best practice model developed in Ireland.

The ICCL is working with the Bar Council of Ireland and the Irish Law Society to develop a training programme which focuses on the needs and rights of victims of crime, pursuant to the Victims Directive. As part of that process, the Victims’ Rights Alliance along with other key stakeholders will help disseminate a survey to victims of crime to identify training needs for lawyers.

On EU Victims Day victim support organisations call on candidates and parties to commit to prioritising victims rights and the implementation of the Victims Directive via the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2015 in the new programme for government.

The 22nd of February 2016 marked #EUVictimsDay. In Europe 75 million people become victims of crime every year; 1 in 3 women are subjected to domestic and/or sexual abuse. Today, Victims Support Europe launched a video on YouTube on victims support and victims rights in Europe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vL1EyaeqGw8&sns=tw The video highlights issues faced by victims of crime. These issues are also experienced by many victims of crime in Ireland. The video also informs victims about what rights they have and that these rights can be enforced in a court of law.

On the 16th of November 2015, the Victims Directive became law in Ireland. The Directive provides that all victims of crime have minimum rights supports and protections for all victims of crime regardless of their residential status. The YouTube video outlines what some of these rights are. Ireland has to date failed to publish the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime Bill) 2015, which needs to be implemented to ensure that all victims can access their rights under the Directive.

On the 27th of January the European Commission issued infringement proceedings against Ireland after the Government failed to inform the Commission what legislation they plan to put in place to implement the Victims Rights Directive.

The Victims Rights Alliance (VRA) has expressed its disappointment that no legislation has been implemented to date. Today, EU Victims Day, the author calls on candidates and parties to commit to prioritising victims rights and the implementation of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2015 in the new programme for government so that all Victims of Crime have the full protection and supports afforded to them under the law.

Today Fianna Fáil launched a document which outlined what they would do to support victims of crime. They have indicated that convicted criminals would be required to pay a new victims’ surcharge and that these funds would then be ring fenced for a Victims Support Fund which would be paid to victim support services. A victims surcharge is something which the VRA has been advocating for a number of years. Under the Victims Directive Ireland has an obligation to provide victims support services, including shelters and counseling, free of charge for a period before, during and after criminal justice proceedings. A victims surcharge would be a means of funding it.

A similar victims fund/fine was considered by former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter but in that instance he indicated that the monies should be paid into the Department of Justice and then paid out to victims support services. The VRA has advocated for a number of years for the establishment of a Victims of Crime Ombudsman, similar to that in Canada. Any victims fund should go to establishing a complaints procedure, such as a Victims of Crime Ombudsman’s Office, which would deal with victims complaints under the Victims Directive in a quick and easy manner. The payment of a victims surcharge towards the Office of the Victims of Crime Ombudsman is something which is done in Canada.

On EU Victims Day Ireland needs to recognise that it still has a lot of work to do to ensure that all victims of crime can obtain all of their rights under the Victims Rights Directive. The implementation of legislation is essential for this to be achieved

DIARY NOTICE – VICTIMS RIGHTS DIRECTIVE IS NOT TRANSPOSED INTO IRISH LAW AHEAD OF DEADLINE OF THE 16TH NOVEMBER 2015

Invitation from the Victims’ Rights Alliance

Are victims’ rights real in your community? Transposing the Victims’ Rights Directive into Irish Law

When:            Monday, 16 November 2015
Time:             11am – 1 pm   Registration from 10:30pm
Where:           The Oak Room, Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin 2

The Victims Rights Alliance invites you to an event to mark the transposition of the EU Victims’ Rights Directive. This event will host discussions on the Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2015 and procedures and implications for non-enforcement of the Directive/Bill.

On 16th November 2015 the Victims Directive will become law throughout the EU, including Ireland, despite the fact that legislation will not be implemented in time to establish minimum rights, supports and protections for all victims of crime. The Victims Directive requires significant legislative and regulatory support to realise its full potential for victims in our local communities, and the VRA looks forward to working closely with the Minister for Justice and Equality and other state agencies to deliver these time-sensitive measures.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Críona Ní Dhálaigh will be in attendance. Victims of crime will tell of their experience of the criminal justice system. Other speakers include Detective Chief Superintendent Padraig Kennedy, Brian Hayes MEP, Maria McDonald BL & Kieran Fitzgerald GSOC

To RSVP: Jason O’Mara, ICCL
Email: jason.omara@iccl.ie
Tel: 01 7994528

There is no charge for attending this event but places are limited so please RSVP at your earliest convenience to guarantee your place.