Victims of crime fear disclosure of personal details
VICTIMS of violent crime, including rape, could be reluctant to seek counselling or medical treatment if confidential notes are disclosed to their alleged attackers, the Government's law reform body has warned.
But the Law Reform Commission (LRC) said that the tension between suspects' fair trial rights and the privacy rights of victims must be resolved – even though it poses a "difficult dilemma" for the criminal justice system.
Last night the commission held a seminar for judges, lawyers and professionals working with victims of crime to discuss disclosure and discovery in criminal trials.
Commissioner Tom O'Malley said problems can arise in sexual offence cases when the defence seeks material which is held by third parties such as therapists or counsellors.
"The accused undoubtedly has a right to a fair trial and experience shows that the content of such records can occasionally call into question the reliability of some aspects of the prosecution case," said Mr O'Malley.
"But it would be equally wrong to order disclosure of all counselling records as a matter of course. Defendants might use such access as a fishing expedition to find material which they could later deploy for the sole purpose of embarrassing or degrading complainants during cross examination."
Caroline Counihan, legal director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), said that requests for complainants' counsellors notes – described as "completely intimate documents" – were now routine.
"There is a real need to avoid, in everything that we do, secondary or repeat victimisation," said Ms Counihan.
Kate Mulkerrins, of the DPP office, said that DPP Claire Loftus would like to see the issue of non-party disclosure dealt with by legislation.
High Court Judge Patrick McCarthy said that there should be a structure to facilitate requests for third party disclosures.
And Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Frank Clarke said that the issue of disclosure of documents in criminal trials needs to be addressed if the authorities wish to "seriously prosecute" white collar and regulatory crimes.
Judge Clarke said that due to the scale of documents and complexity of cases, problems from civil cases could affect disclosure in criminal trials.