Tackling Sexual Violence and building a Victims Centred Approach A Priority – Minister McEntee
Minister publishes the O’Malley Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences
Immediate progress on a number of recommendations promised by Minister.
Detailed plan for wider implementation of all recommendations to be brought to Government within weeks.
6 August, 2020
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Helen McEntee TD, has today (Friday August 6th) published the O’Malley Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences.
The Minister announced that she would develop an implementation plan, working with the NGO sector and stakeholders, and would report back to Government with a detailed plan of action within 10 weeks.
The Minister said,
“As Minister for Justice, I want to ensure that we can effectively tackle the scourge of sexual violence, which is a blight on our society.
“We must work together to tackle and reduce the levels of these terrible crimes, and where an offence is committed, and where a wrong is done, we must ensure that all necessary supports are in place so
that victims will feel safe and supported when they come forward.
“To do this, we must have in place a victim-centred approach. I want the victims of sexual crimes to know that they will be listened to, that they will be treated with respect and dignity, and that they will be supported throughout the process.
“And I want the perpetrators of such crimes to know that the crime they commit will be reported, will be investigated and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“I want to ensure that the victims of sexual violence have the correct supports. That means access to their own independent legal advice or support, if they need it, someone who can be with them and explain the process and advise them throughout the process, not only while the trial is underway as is currently the case.
“I look forward to working with stakeholders and with the NGO sector to consider the report further and to develop an implementation plan which I will bring to government within 10 weeks. It is important that the voices of victims and those who work with them are clearly heard as we draw up our Plan.”
The Report published today contains over 50 recommendations, with four overarching recommendations:
- promoting better awareness of victims’ rights legislation;
- promoting education about the meaning and importance of consent;
- improving inter-agency co-operation and exchange of information, especially in relation to services for victims; and
- ensuring consistency in service delivery.
The Minister indicated that a number of actions would be immediately prioritised. These include:
Working with the Legal Aid Board to ensure the victims of sexual crime can access the legal advice and support they need.
Establishing a single, comprehensive source to inform victims of sexual crime of their rights and of the services available to them.
Starting a public awareness campaign around the meaning of consent.
Completing the rollout of the Garda Divisional Protective Services Units across the country within two months. This means every division of An Garda Síochána will have a specialised unit for the investigation of sexual violence, human trafficking, child abuse and domestic abuse.
Prioritising the drafting of legislation to provide for preliminary hearings to help avoid delay in sexual offences cases.
Ensuring the development of the necessary specialist programmes of training for serving members of An Garda Síochána, legal professionals and others who are participating in a professional capacity in sexual offences investigations and trials, including engagement with the newly established Judicial Council about training for judges.
The Minister indicated that the implementation plan, which will be brought to government within 10 weeks, will include timelines for delivery.
Among the issues dealt with in detail in the O’Malley report, and which will be considered as part the implementation plan, are:
The investigation and prosecution of sexual offences
The anonymity of victims and defendants, public access to sexual offence trials and media reporting
The trial of sexual offences
Information for victims
Use of intermediaries
Reducing delay in the trial process
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Minister McEntee concluded,
“The completion of this report, received in recent days, is very welcome. The report is comprehensive and the recommendations are detailed and far-reaching.
“The content of the report will need careful analysis to determine a swift and effective policy response and implementation plan. I am keen to commence work on a number of actions immediately, and look forward to working with stakeholders, frontline partners and the NGO community on this.
“Developing an ambitious implementation plan is a priority for me as Minister for Justice.”
Notes for Editors
The full Report can be found at http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/O'Malley_Report
Background information on the O’Malley Review
This Review was prompted by widely shared concerns about the experiences of vulnerable witnesses in criminal proceedings for sexual offences. In particular, there was unease in the wake of a trial in Belfast Crown Court in 2018, which has come to be known as the ‘Belfast rugby rape trial’. The then Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, requested the Review to examine key aspects of the criminal justice process as it relates to vulnerable witnesses, and to identify ways in which the treatment of such witnesses might be improved.
The Review Group included representatives from the main agencies involved in the investigation, prosecution and trial of sexual offences: An Garda Síochána, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Courts Service and the Probation Service. It was chaired by Tom O’Malley, barrister, Commissioner at the Law Reform Commission, Senior Lecturer in Law at National University of Ireland Galway, and author of the definitive legal texts on sexual offences law in Ireland.
The Terms of Reference for the Review were published in September 2018 and specified completion of the report by the end of December 2018, or as soon as possible thereafter. It is likely that the publication of the Report will lead to renewed debate on sexual offending, the treatment of vulnerable witnesses, the supports available to victims and on related matters such as consistency in sentencing and the provision of training for all those who come into contact with the victims of sexual crime.
The report describes the constitutional framework within which the rules and practices relating to the investigation, prosecution and trial of criminal offences, including sexual offences, must operate. It also provides a summary of the many progressive statutory measures that have been introduced in recent years to assist victims of sexual crime, especially during trial.
Overall, the recommendations are intended to improve the present system by ensuring, as far as possible, that victims of sexual crime have access to information and advice from the time at which the offence was committed, that they will be kept informed of the progress of investigation, that they will be facilitated in giving their best evidence if called as witnesses and that they will be treated with respect and dignity throughout the process.
Several of the recommendations are intended to assist all vulnerable witnesses, whether they are victims of an offence or otherwise.
In conducting the review, Mr O’Malley and the Working Group met with interested stakeholders as follows:
On 13th November 2018, the group met with representatives of the legal profession.
On 27th November 2018, the group met with a number of organisations representing victims of sexual offences (Crime Victims Helpline, One in Four, CARI, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Rape Crisis Network, National Women’s Council of Ireland and Women’s Aid).
On 10th December 2018, the group met with Sir John Gillen, who carried out a similar review in Northern Ireland, and members of his team.
On 21st January 2019, the group met with representatives from the Legal Aid Board.
On 26 February 2019 a visit to the Garda special interview suite.
On 28 June 2019 the Group had a conference call with Department of Justice Northern Ireland – Victims and Witnesses Branch Safer Communities Directorate
Mr O’Malley received a number of submissions including from the Bar Council of Ireland, the Count Me In! Campaign, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the Legal Aid Board, Mens’ Voices Ireland, One in Four, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Temple Street, Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Women's Aid as well as interested individuals and survivors of sexual offences.