The Victims’ Rights Alliance (VRA), of which ICCL is a member, yesterday broadly welcomed the commencement of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017. ICCL, The Bar of Ireland and The Law Society of Ireland will provide training for those who will implement the legislation, to be launched by Minister David Stanton tomorrow.
Maria McDonald, BL, a founding member of the VRA, commented: ‘This is a landmark day for victims of crime in Ireland. For the first time, they are legally entitled to the right to information, support and protection. All criminal justice agencies engaging with victims of crime must ensure that victims get access to their rights or they risk being brought to court’.
The new legislation permits all victims of crime to provide a victim impact statement where previously only victims of the most serious crimes were permitted to do so. The Act also 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 simple language and that it takes account of any disability a victim may have. It states that victims of a crime must be provided with information on first contact with the Gardaí, and on any significant developments on their case.
However, Ms McDonald has warned that “While this legislation is very welcome, significant work is required to ensure that victims can easily access, and understand their full rights and entitlements under the Act. Urgent steps must be taken to confirm that all public information leaflets are comprehensive and written in easily-understandable language’.
She continued, saying, ‘Further, while the Act provides for a victim to be accompanied by a person of their choice when making a statement to Gardaí, including a legal representative, this is not covered by legal aid meaning some of the most vulnerable cohorts of society may not be able to access legal support. We are calling on the government to extend the legal aid scheme 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’.
The VRA is also calling on the government to establish an Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to ensure that victims of crime can access a quick, clear and independent complaints procedure.
Meanwhile, the ICCL, which is a member of the VRA, is collaborating with The Bar of Ireland and the Law Society, to launch a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for all those who will implement this legislation. Liam Herrick, director of the ICCL, said, ‘This course will provide participants with an understanding of the rights afforded to victims of crime under the EU Victims’ Directive and the new Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017. It will discuss the specific needs and best practice approaches to dealing with vulnerable victims and looking at case studies from overseas jurisdictions.’
Criminal Barrister and Vice Chair, Council of The Bar of Ireland Mary Rose Gearty SC said “The Bar of Ireland is one of a number of professional and State bodies involved in meeting and reassuring victims of crime as they come into contact with the court process. We hope that this online course will help lawyers to implement the new measures comprehensively and confidently as they continue to carry out this important work”.
Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton, will formally launch the course at a lunchtime event at The Bar of Ireland tomorrow. The training begins online today and is co-funded by the European Commission.