On December 29, 2016, Ireland published its new Victims of Crime Bill to satisfy the Victim’s Directives implemented by 2012/29/EU, which supported victim’s rights legislation for all European Union nations.
The Victim’s Directive was introduced in Ireland on November 16, 2015. The Bill was originally unpublished and not adopted, meaning it had no legislative effect. In response, the EU issued infringement proceedings against Ireland for failing to communicate with it, and resisting the Directive’s implementation. With the Bill’s publication, Ireland can abide by the EU’s minimum requirements to support and protect all victims of crime.
The published Victims of Crime Bill expands the definition of a “victim” to “a natural person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss, which was directly caused by an offence.” The Bill provides for informational rights for the victim upon first contact with Ireland’s police, better known as the Garda Síochána. The victim receives procedural information including any significant developments in the investigation such as the arrest or charging of a suspect, the reasons why an investigation was discontinued, a decision not to prosecute, or information regarding the imprisonment and release of an offender. Yet another important component of the Bill is that an individual assessment must be carried out for all victims in order to identify any form of protection a victim may need, and to what extent he or she may benefit from protection measures intended to safeguard the safety and welfare of the victim. Protection measures may include advice regarding the personal safety of the victim or property. The Bill specifies that special measures during investigation may include an interview conducted by a “specially trained person.” Other provisions include excluding the public to protect the victim, assisting children where their parent or guardian is unavailable, and amending Ireland’s Criminal Justice Act of 1993 to allow victims to make an “impact statement” about any harm directly caused by an offense.
The Victims of Crime Bill is widely praised by the Victims’ Rights Alliance (VRA) and its coordinator, Maria McDonald. McDonald stated that the Bill will “improve the day to day experiences of victims of crime in Ireland,” and that publication of the Bill “is the first step to ensuring that victims of crime are treated with dignity and respect.”
The Bill is not without criticism, however. Even before the Bill was written in November 2015, the Irish government received criticism that the funding for the Victims of Crime Office would need to be more than empty promises. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said that Ireland needs legislative reform to prevent repeated victimization, intimidation, and retaliation through use of specially trained interviewers. This group pointed out that a high volume of crime victims do not engage with the criminal justice system. Even the VRA agreed that the Bill’s failure to include safeguards on restorative justice, possibly meaning remedial measures, was “a very obvious omission.” Another complaint the Commission brought against the Bill has to do with its non-expansive definition of “victim,” stating that an individual should be considered one regardless of whether an offender is identified, apprehended, prosecuted or convicted.
Despite its criticisms, Ireland’s Victims of Crime Bill is a positive step forward for the country after its delayed implementation. Providing victims with appropriate information following a police report should help protect victims of violent crime. The offered service should also help the victim make informed decisions, as well as encourage all Irish individuals to bring forward otherwise-unreported crimes. The specialized reports will require resources from Ireland’s Victims of Crime Office, but the greater emphasis on information and analysis will help criminal investigations find the perpetrator and appropriately protect the victim.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, however, is right for recommending changes to the Bill to allow a more expansive definition of a “victim” and a method of communication for victims to report crimes. In requiring an “offense” to be identified in order to classify someone as a victim, the survivor may improperly assume that identifying a perpetrator is required before he or she can receive any services. The Bill’s failure to provide for a victim reporting service is also problematic. Ireland’s Victims of Crime Bill is clearly lacking the specificity necessary to assure the human rights it wishes to protect. One may argue that the Bill’s interpretations should be left to the court, but without prior precedent, an Irish Court could rule in favor of an interpretation not intended by Ireland’s Parliament. Although the Victim of Crime Bill is very late, providing the additional detail recommended by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission may prevent confusion or unintended consequences.