Readers of this blog will be aware that in an earlier post published on 10 August, 2020 we commented on the publication of the Review of the Protection of Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences (which has been chaired by Professor Tom O’Malley BL) by the Irish Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD.
The review contained 52 actions and four overarching recommendations and following publication Minister McEntee committed to introducing a detailed implementation plan for those recommendations in early course.
Following on from that commitment an implementation group was established by Minister McEntee to analyse the recommendations made by the review and determine what action would need to be taken to give effect to those recommendations.
The Minister has already overseen the introduction of one of the recommendations in the O’Malley review as of September, 2020 every Garda Division in the country now has a Divisional Protective Services Unit, with specially trained officers now available nationwide when victims of domestic and sexual violence present to Gardaí.
The work of that implementation group led to Minister McEntee publishing Supporting A Victim’s Journey: A Plan to Help Victims and Vulnerable Witnesses in Sexual Violence Cases on the 28th October, this Implementation Plan which Minister McEntee describes as a “living document” outlines how she intends to reform the current system of investigating and prosecuting sexual crimes to create a victim centered approach.
Minister McEntee said, “When a person becomes the victim of a terrible crime, I want them to have confidence that the criminal justice system, and all those who work within it, will treat them with dignity and empathy and will support them at every turn.”
Among the actions which will be implemented are training programmes across the Justice sector to better support victims. These include:
- A commitment from the Judicial Council that training for judges on how vulnerable victims will be treated during sexual offence trials will be completed in 2021.
- The Irish Bar Council will develop a course within its Continuing Professional Development framework to train barristers on how to treat victims, including how they should be questioned, and to gain a better understanding of the victim’s experience.
- The Irish Law Society will examine if its current training structures can be adapted to provide updated training. Its annual Criminal Law Conference in March 2021 is envisaged to provide such training for criminal practitioners.
- The Irish Department of Justice will ensure that all personnel in State Agencies who are likely to have to deal with victims of sexual crime should have appropriate training. Specific proposals will be developed as part of the 3rd National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, which will be in place by the end of 2021.
- All serving members of An Garda Síochána (the Irish Police force) engaged in front line policing will receive specialist training for engaging with victims of sexual crime and vulnerable witnesses.
The Minister has secured €2.3 million in the recent budget to fund the reforms outlined in Supporting A Victim’s Journey. This includes providing free legal advice to victims of sexual assault even in instances where there is no prosecution.
The Minister also indicated that further actions will be taken in the following areas:
- A range of initiatives will be taken to educate people around the meaning of consent including a major awareness campaign, dedicated website and a number of actions within primary, secondary and third level education.
- Measures to raise awareness of victims’ rights provided for in law by the 2017 Victims of Crime Act.
- Support for the provision of intermediaries, including by developing a training and accreditation framework for intermediaries and increased grant funding for court accompaniment and other supports for victims
- New legislation to give effect to the recommendations on preliminary hearings to help reduce delays which will be published before the end of December 2020.
Supporting A Victim’s Journey details over 50 individual reforms and sets ambitious timelines for their completion, the full text of the plan can be viewed here Supporting a Victim’s Journey – A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases