Thursday, 21 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Victim Support Services
92. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will put a mechanism in place in Garda stations whereby the victim of a violent crime would be notified of the release of the perpetrator from prison three months in advance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51160/21]
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. While the Garda is committed to ensuring that all victims of crime receive information, protection and support throughout the criminal justice process, responsibility for notifying victims of crime of the release of a perpetrator from prison rests with the victim liaison office in the Irish Prison Service. The information currently provided by the service covers the obligations under Part 2 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 and is a key element of the victims charter.
A victim of crime, a member of their family, or a third party person acting on their behalf has the right to request the Prison Service victims liaison officer to enter into direct and ongoing contact with them in order to keep them informed of significant developments in the sentence management of a prisoner. Victims registered with the service are provided with information on when the offender will be released from prison and about any form of temporary release.
They are also informed about inter-prison transfers, hospital appointments and court appearances. Victims are also provided with information regarding an escape from custody, as well as being notified about an upcoming parole hearing and the outcome of it.
I understand that while every effort is made to ensure that information on a prisoner's release from prison, temporary or otherwise, is provided in advance, there are some exceptions. On occasion, urgent applications may be considered on compassionate grounds or prisoners can sometimes be released by court order. In such cases, every effort is made by the victim liaison officer to inform the victim of the prisoner's release within the shortest timeframe possible. This officer can also provide victims with general information about the prison system, such as the regime in different prisons, remission on sentences and the operation of the parole board. The officer deals with victims on a strictly confidential basis.
I thank the Minister. It was at a recent joint policing committee, JPC, meeting in Cavan that I became aware that this service actually exists and that the prison service will liaise with a victim or with his or her family. I understand that the Minister has said that one has to request that information. There are many people who are not aware that they need or have to request that service. If something can be done to make people more aware of the existence of that service, that would be very worthwhile.
While people are aware at the time of the sentencing what the sentence will be, with reasons such as good behaviour or early release for different reasons, or even for temporary release for family-related matters, there is the possibility, especially if the victim or survivor and the perpetrator come from the same locality, that they may come into contact with each other. It can be very shocking for the person to come face-to-face with the perpetrator if they are not aware that they have been released and this can cause a significant amount of trauma.
Do I not have two minutes, Acting Chairman?
Briefly, to respond to the Minister, I have also come across a number of cases of people who have contacted my office where they had been a victim of crime and the first thing that they knew of the perpetrator being out in the public again was when they, or a close member of their family, met them on the street. There has clearly been a breakdown in that service in that it does not automatically inform the victim. If a crime is above a particular seriousness, that service should automatically engage with the victims of crimes.
I thank the Deputy Tully for raising this issue because it is only through open discussion that we get the message out there to people that those supports are there. Ensuring that victims are better supported by the criminal justice system, including by ensuring that they are fully informed of their rights, is a priority for the Government. A significant part of the work to implement supporting a victim's journey focuses on this.
My officials are working on promoting and policing the rights that victims of crime have, including publicising their right to register with the Garda Victim Liaison Office and to be kept informed of any significant sentence management decision taken. As to who can register with the victim liaison office, a person can register and receive information if he or she is a victim of the offence for which the offender is in prison.
I take and accept the Deputy's point that where a person has been a victim of violence and somebody has been imprisoned, and the victim does not know that this person has been released and meets them on the street, it is not easy for any victim.
I am conscious that gardaí who investigate the crime often stay in touch with the family and keep them apprised of issues. Gardaí can move on for different reasons because of promotion or retirement and I do not expect them to remember every individual case they deal with. Could there be some sort of electronic or technological reminder in the Garda station to contact the family, the victim or survivor? I am particularly concerned in cases of domestic violence also because there is often the likelihood of a repeat offence there. To forewarn the victim means that she may have time to put a safety plan in place on his release.
I thank the Acting Chairman. Under budget 2022, €4.9 million is being allocated to support victims of crime. The contact that the victim of crime really needs to make is with the victim liaison office. This can be done by telephone, email or online via the Irish Prison Service website. I agree with the Deputy that it is no harm to do an awareness campaign around this so that people know exactly who they can contact. If they cannot do it themselves, an immediate family member or a person who has a close relationship with someone who has died or was injured as a result of the offence can also register with the service. The service is there to help people and we want to ensure that people use it and are aware of it. I take the Deputy's point on board and thank her.