Watchdog wants victims’ rights to be strengthened in bill

Certain victims should be entitled to special Garda measures — such as specially trained interviewers — as a legal right and not at the discretion of the gardaí, the State’s human rights ombudsman has said.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission says some victims of crime should be entitled to special Garda mesasures.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission also said the State needed to take measures to deal with the under-reporting of crimes, such as sexual crime and hate crime.

In its submission of the Victims of Crime Bill, which was debated in the Dáil yesterday, the commission said certain categories of victims were “particularly at risk” and requested the State to make legislative reforms to ensure they did not suffer repeat victimisation, intimidation, and retaliation.

These include victims of human trafficking, gender-based violence, hate crime as well as children.

The bill — before the Dáil again today — is implementing the EU Victims’ Directive, supposed to have been implemented by November 16, 2015.

In its submission on the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016, the commission said it was “vital” the protections and supports in the directive were put on a statutory footing and that this should be done “without further delay”.

It said the failure to transpose the directive in Ireland has in recent years resulted in victims of crime being subject to “further victimisation and being denied assistance and support measures”.

The commission called for the definition of a “victim” to be expanded in the bill to ensure, for avoidance of any doubt, that an individual may be considered a victim regardless of an offender being identified.

It said the directive required individual assessments for each victim, particularly in determining if the person was at risk of secondary or repeat victimisation.

The commission said the bill outlined special measures which may be implemented in a respect of a victim during interviews.

These include measures to ensure that interviews are carried out in an adapted premises; that the interviews are carried out by persons specially trained for that purpose; in cases of multiple interviews that the same officer carries out the interview where possible and in cases of sexual violence, gender-based violence or violence in a close relationship, that there is a right for a victim to be interviewed by a person of the same gender.

The commission said the bill states these measures “may be” implemented — but the commission wanted this to change to “shall be” implemented, save for exceptions set out in the legislation.

The commission noted that the bill does not propose to legislate for restorative justice, as had been signalled in the earlier general scheme of the bill, but noted that separate legislation is proposed in this regard.

It said the provision of support for victims should not be just for those who report a crime — pointing out that “a high volume” of crime victims do not engage with the criminal justice system, including victims of sex crimes and victims of hate crime.

In its statement, the Victims’ Rights Alliance (VRA) said the failure to include safeguards on restorative justice was “a very obvious omission”.

It said: “Safeguards are extremely important for instances where the victim could potentially go through a traumatic experience if required to meet the offender, ie a victim of sexual assault having to meet their abuser.”

The VRA also wanted a victims’ ombudsman to act as a one-stop shop to meet the needs of victims.

It called for victims to be automatically referred to support services and not at the discretion of gardaí.

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