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.