Rape crisis centres want legislation to be brought in giving judges the sole authority to decide whether or not such notes should be handed over to the defence teams.
Rape Crisis Network Ireland said, as it stands, many victims are being asked by gardaí, as they make statements of complaint, to sign consent forms for the disclosure of therapy records.
“It seems to be that gardaí are now routinely getting people to fill in forms when a complainant makes a formal statement,” said Caroline Counihan, legal director at RCNI.
“They might have had no legal advice at that stage. It’s very traumatic, very difficult for them. We would be very concerned that clients are not given the opportunity to go away and think about it.”
She said some gardaí were very good and advised the complainant to go to their local rape crisis centre or to maybe seek legal advice, but added that there “seems to be variation” around how the matter is dealt with.
Ms Counihan is speaking at a Law Reform Commission seminar today on Disclosure and Discovery in Criminal Cases. Judges from the supreme and high courts, as well as representative of the DPP’s office and barristers and solicitors are attending. They will also be joined by a representative of a sexual assault treatment unit.
She said that while the accused’s right to a fair trial was a cornerstone of our criminal justice system, it was not an “untrammelled right”. She said the privacy of complainants and their right (soon to be enshrined in a EU-directive) not to have further harm inflicted on them were also highly important.
“The solution should be statutory protection and that the judge makes the decision, bearing in mind the risk of loss of privacy, further harm to the complainant and risk of unfair trial to accused.”