Major New Legislative Package on the Way
New Executive Victims of Crime Office to be Established
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D. today announced a major new initiative for victims of crime entitled the Justice for Victims Initiative.
The Initiative includes important legislative features including:
- A new groundbreaking Bill addressing Justice for Victims of Crime to be drafted, and presented, to the Oireachtas early next year. This Bill, which will be a substantial piece of legislative reform, will contain measures to:
- Reform the victim impact statement mechanism in order to grant victim status to next of kin in homicide cases.
- Introduce new mechanisms to deal with an acquittal where compelling evidence of guilt emerges after the acquittal.
- Enable cases to be re-opened where an acquittal arises from an error in law by a Judge.
- Provide for new prosecutions where there is evidence that the original acquittal was tainted by interference with the trial process, including intimidation of witnesses.
- Introduce measures to restrict unjustified and vexatious imputations at trial against the character of a deceased or incapacitated victim or witness.
In addition to these legislative proposals, the Minister has announced a series of administrative moves to increase supports to victims. These include:
- The establishment of a New Executive Office of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to support crime victims, focusing on the co-ordination of delivery of services.
- A reconstituted Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime - with a role to distribute funding to groups working with crime victims, as well as providing general oversight of services and promoting awareness.
- A Victims of Crime Consultative Forum, representing victims’ interests, which will liaise with the Commission.
The Minister announced the new Initiative at the publication of a new framework document prepared by the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime, the recommendations of which the Minister said he intends to implement.
Speaking at the publication, the Minister said: "This Framework Document looks at the current situation in regard to the supports which are available to victims and outlines how these may be strengthened to ensure that victims receive adequate assistance in the aftermath of crime. I consider it important we are responsive to the needs of victims. It is vital that there is a coordinated approach to the delivery of services to support victims. It is my intention to accept the recommendations of the Commission. I propose to move quickly to implement those recommendations. Furthermore, in regard to the provision of information to victims of crime, this is an important issue and I am asking the new Commission to address this issue with the various Agencies."
The Minister said work has already commenced in the Department on preparation of the legislative package outlined above. This will benefit victims of crime and the community in general. The Minister continued: "It is my intention to have this legislation published in the Spring. The legislation will take account of several recommendations in the 2007 Report of the Balance in the Criminal Law Review Group."
Thanking the Chairman, Mr. Jim McHugh and the other members of the Commission the Minister said "Credit is due to the Commission Members who gave of their time and commitment to explore this very wide and complex area. With the presentation of this document the Commission has now completed the second of their agreed tasks. I am asking the members of the existing Commission to form part of the proposed re-constituted Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime providing for continuity of oversight in respect of services to victims of crime."
Since March 2005, the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime has allocated over €2.5 million in funding to over 40 groups engaged in providing support to victims of crime and this is expected to increase to €3.5 million by the end of 2008 being the first of the Commission’s agreed tasks.
The Minister added: "I also want to pay tribute to those volunteers at local level who work, tirelessly and largely unrecognised, to provide a service to the victims of crime. Their sense of responsibility and support to the community deserves the praise, admiration and support of both society in general and Government in particular."
19 June 2008
Notes for Editors
1. Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime
In March, 2005 the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform established the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime with a remit to:
a) to devise an appropriate framework for victims of crime into the future and
b) disburse funding for victim support measures.
The Commission members are:
Mr Jim Mc Hugh, (Chairman), former Assistant Commissioner, An Garda Síochána,
Ms Nora Owen, former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform,
Mr Sean Lowry, former head of the Probation and Welfare Service,
Mr Michael Whelan, Gemini Consulting,
Ms Marian Finucane, broadcaster.
The Commission’s remit includes the examination of all aspects of the provision of services to victims of crime within the criminal justice system. These provisions are set out in the Victims Charter of 1999 which the Commission is currently reviewing.
The Commission supervises the disbursement of funds to non- governmental organisations providing victim services, with a particular emphasis on the funding of activities on the ground that provide direct support for victims of crime.
In 2005, 2006 and 2007 the Commission granted funding for measures to support victims of various crimes including sexual violence, domestic violence, murder, human trafficking and general crime. Funding of € 685,750 was granted in 2005. Funding of €885,250 was granted in 2006 and €946,125 was granted in 2007. The Commission in 2008 has an assigned funding of €1.133 m. to support victim of crime measures.
2. Balance in Criminal Law Review Group
The Balance in the Criminal Law Review Group was established in November 2006 under the Chairmanship of Dr Gerard Hogan S.C. to examine whether the balance struck in the criminal law between the interests of the community and the victim on the one hand and the accused on the other is fair. Its membership included officials from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Offices of the Attorney General and the DPP, academics and a member of the Commission for the Support of Victims.
In formulating its views the Group met with a number of interested parties including victims’ groups. The Group submitted its final report to the Minister at that time in March 2007. A number of the recommendations in the Report have already been implemented by means of the Criminal Justice Act 2007, in particular the recommendations concerning the right to silence. The Report is available on the Department’s website at www.justice.ie