Monday 19 March 2018

Victims' families call for reform of murder bail laws

Don Lavery

JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern has been urged to bring laws before the Oireachtas barring people accused of murder from applying for bail before their trial.

A violent offenders' register should also be set up nationwide, according to AdVIC, the advocacy group for the families and friends of victims of murder. AdVIC lobbies for change in the criminal justice system, which it says has been found to lack fairness and balance.

The group, which held its annual meeting in Dublin yesterday, urged Mr Ahern to bring in a law without delay which ensured that those accused of murder or manslaughter are barred from applying for bail pending trial. It has a series of other aims.

• Immediately enacting the Criminal Procedure Bill to ensure that all families of victims of homicide will be entitled to give a victim impact statement following a conviction.

• Better communication facilities by the Prison Service to inform victims' families about the status and impending release of prisoners.

• The introduction of murder graded by degree in place of manslaughter for death by violence.

• The establishment of a violent offenders register.

AdVic spokeswoman Annie Mulvaney said: "This Government is all about talking tough on crime, yet it provides little support for the families of victims.

"We've seen legislation rushed through the Dail in relation to gangland crime, yet the Criminal Procedure Bill, which would ensure that all families will be entitled to give a victim impact statement following a homicide conviction, still has to be implemented, despite being promised last year."

She added: "We have now been campaigning for five years and yet there are a number of issues which have not been addressed.

"For example, the bail laws are in urgent need of reform. The recent bail of convicted killer Eamonn Lillis pending sentence shows up the fact that there is one law for the offender, another for the victim.

"Similarly we believe that manslaughter should be replaced by murder graded by degree in relation to death by violence.

"This would mean that all those convicted would be subject to a violent offenders register, so they can be properly monitored upon release."

Ms Mulvaney, whose son Brian was murdered in south Dublin 10 years ago in a violent assault, said: "Where is the justice when it is the family of a victim of homicide that end up with the life sentence?"

AdVIC also wants speedier resolution of homicide cases, arguing that they should not take more than one year to come to trial from the time of service of the book of evidence, except in "exceptional circumstances".

The group also wants the the mandatory life sentence for murder to be reviewed and have a minimum term of imprisonment of 25 years for murder of first degree. The current practice of judges giving concurrent sentences to offenders who have already been sentenced to a murder conviction be reviewed.

A seven-year parole application threshold for murder prisoners should also be reviewed with a view to extending it to 15 years, and AdVIC also wants representation on the parole board so that families of victims can express their views.

And when the parole board reviews the case of a person convicted of murder or manslaughter, it should seek a written submission from the family of the victim, it said.

Ms Mulvaney said another of their aims for this year was better communication with the families of homicide victims on the impending release where the onus was now on the family to contact the prison service and be registered with them.

An information leaflet with a form should be given to families at sentencing so that they could be informed of the impending release date, as it would be one less thing for them to have to do, while the balance was still in favour of the convicted, she said.

Sunday Independent

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