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.