New reform to bring justice for the victims of crime
A NEW charter for crime victims has been announced by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.
The Government has given backing for the charter, which is aimed at "refocusing" all of Ireland's main criminal-justice agencies around the needs of victims of crime.
Mr Ahern said the charter would give definitive commitments to the victims from the eight main criminal-justice agencies. There will be no fudge in relation to the commitments, according to the minister.
The charter will give clear contact points in each organisation if a crime victim is not happy with its response and it will update a strategy that was devised in 1999.
The agencies involved are the gardai, courts, DPP, Probation Service, Prison Service, Legal Aid Board, Coroner Service and Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. Gardai now have family liaison officers for serious cases involving death and also have special officers to deal with gay and ethnic issues.
Members of the force have been told to take account of the views of victims and may invite them to attend meetings to discuss crimes committed by young offenders as part of the its diversion programme.
The DPP will give reasons to the family of a victim for not prosecuting in a case involving death, applicable after October 22 2008. And the Legal Aid Board can now give legal advice to rape victims and represent them in any legal argument about admitting the sexual history of the victim as evidence in a case. Both of those services are free of charge.
Mr Ahern also announced a decision to fast-track the Criminal Procedure Bill to ensure it is pushed through before the summer recess.
This legislation changes the rules on double jeopardy by permitting retrials in certain circumstances and it also amends the law on victim impact statements.
Double jeopardy means that a person who has been acquitted of a crime cannot be charged again with that offence.
But the new legislation, described by the minister as ground-breaking, will remove that right in some cases, such as where there is new compelling evidence of guilt emerging after an acquittal. It might also apply if the acquittal is due to an error in law by the judge, or if there is evidence that the acquittal is tainted by interference in the trial process.
The families of victims will be given a statutory right to make an impact statement in certain cases before sentence has been passed. But the judge will have the power to ban the publication of the impact statement if it deviates from what was intended. Mr Ahern said he had instructed his officials to fast-track the bill and described it as the centrepiece of the "justice for victims" initiative.