VICTIMS of physical violence and “emotional distress” — such as harassment and stalking — are legally entitled to give a victim impact statement in court.
Legislation signed into law yesterday by the President has significantly extended the right to a much wider range of victims, beyond just murder and rape cases.
The Criminal Procedure Act 2010 also marks a legal milestone by overturning — in limited circumstances — the rule of double jeopardy, which prohibited someone being tried for a second time for the same offence.
“Victim impact statements have in some high-profile cases been the subject of much controversy,” said Justice Minister Dermot Ahern yesterday. He said, in the act, there was “a clear setting out and a widening of the circumstances” in which a victim impact statement is to be allowed in court.
“The range of offences where there is to be an entitlement to make a statement is being expanded beyond those causing physical injury, and will in future cover offences causing emotional distress, such as harassment and stalking.”
The range of offences also includes victims of serious assaults, syringe robberies, false imprisonment (including tiger kidnappings), trafficking and child abduction.
Mr Ahern said: “I am very pleased that the new and expanded entitlements to make victim impact statements will also close a gap which left families of deceased victims, for example, in murder trials, without a full entitlement to make a statement. It will also be easier for children or other vulnerable persons to make a statement.”
The minister said the act makes exceptions to the law of double jeopardy, in cases involving a life sentence, namely murder, manslaughter and rape cases.
“It now means someone who has committed a very serious offence can be retried if there is new, compelling evidence, in certain limited exceptions, subject to the say-so of a court.
“At the moment if someone commits murder and acquitted they can come out on the steps of the court and conceivably say ‘oh by the way I committed that murder’ and they can’t be retried.” Mr Ahern was speaking at the publication of a Victims Charter and guide to the criminal justice system. The booklet, awarded the National Adult Literacy Agency “Plain English” mark, sets out commitments to victims by nine criminal justice agencies.
It provides contact details and alternative avenues if victims are not getting the service expected.
The National Crime Victims Helpline welcomed the publication. Helpline coordinator Maeve Ryan said the charter will assist victims who often feel “unsupported and isolated” by the criminal justice system.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre also welcomed the charter, saying victims were often “in the dark” at how the system worked. *victimsofcrimeoffice.ie or the National Crime Victims Helpline 1850 211 407.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved