Justice Minister announces plans to better support victims of sexual violence

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee says her plan will reform the system of investigating and prosecuting sexual crimes to create a "victim-centred approach".
Justice Minister announces plans to better support victims of sexual violence

Minister for Justice and Equality Helen McEntee has announced new measures to help victims in sexual violence cases. Picture: Gareth Chaney

Specialist training will be introduced to the justice sector to better support victims in sexual violence cases. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will launch Supporting A Victim’s Journey: A Plan to Help Victims and Vulnerable Witnesses in Sexual Violence Cases today.

Specialist training for judges, lawyers, gardaí and others will be implemented to "ensure victims are supported throughout investigation and prosecution" and free legal advice will be made available to victims of sexual assault even where there is no prosecution.

The minister says her plan will reform the system of investigating and prosecuting sexual crimes to create a "victim-centred approach".

Over 50 individual reforms will be implemented, including 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 Bar Council will develop a course to train barristers on how to treat victims and The Law Society will examine if its current training structures can be adapted to provide updated training.

A range of initiatives will also be taken to educate people around the meaning of consent including a major awareness campaign and a number of actions within primary, secondary- and third-level education.

The 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 Third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, which will be in place by the end of 2021.

Ms 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.”

These reforms come after the introduction of the divisional protective services units, which has been completed in recent weeks. The units were set up for the investigation of specialised crime types, including sexual crime, human trafficking, child abuse and domestic abuse and focus on the support for vulnerable victims of crime, including enhanced collaboration with the Child and Family Agency to safeguard children.

The new plan comes after the publication of the O’Malley Review of the Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences, which Ms McEntee published in August.

The review was prompted by the controversy of the Belfast rugby rape trial, after which concerns were raised about how the Irish court system treats vulnerable complainants.

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