Thursday, 13 July 2017
Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016: Second Stage
I welcome the Minster of State, Deputy Stanton, to the House. Fianna Fáil will be fully supportive of this legislation. We believe that it is long overdue. As the Minister of State has stated, it transposes into Irish law the EU directive which establishes minimum standards in respect of the rights, supports and protection of victims of crime. We believe that the victims of crime need to be fully supported at all times. Too often the justice system seems to be balanced in favour of criminals and repeat offenders while ordinary people who fall prey to criminality are very often left unrecognised. While we are supporting this Bill, we have a number of amendments which we will bring forward on Committee Stage.
There is often a feeling that our laws do not do enough for victims and that they are not consistently applied. A criminal act leaves a victim vulnerable and, often, in need of assistance. Very often victims feel that they have been left on their own. A victim is often involved in the criminal justice system for the very first time and may have to speak to members of An Garda Síochána, solicitors or other professionals and ultimately go to court. This can be a daunting experience which can add to levels of distress. In Ireland, a person who has been the victim of a crime receives a letter from An Garda Síochána which acknowledges that they are a victim and informs them that the matter is being investigated. This letter offers them information on how to follow up should they need to do so.
I welcome the fact, which the Minister of State has outlined, that in addition to this, and as a result of this legislation, the victim will have rights including: the right to receive comprehensive information on the criminal justice system and his or her role within it; the right to a range of services and entitlements which he or she may access; the right to receive a written acknowledgement of the making of the complaint; the right to be provided with information concerning the progress of the investigation and any court proceedings; the right to be informed of any decision not to institute a prosecution in respect of an offence committed against him or her and the right to request a review of that decision; the right to receive information on the temporary release or the escape from custody of an offender serving a sentence for an offence committed against the victim; the right to receive information in clear and concise language; and the right to interpretation and translation where it is necessary to enable the victim to understand and to be understood, particularly in the criminal justice process.
As the Minister of State mentioned in his contribution, transposing this EU directive is about ensuring that victims are recognised and treated with respect and dignity. They are two of the most important words in the Minister of State's contribution. It is also about ensuring that victims are protected from further victimisation and intimidation from the offender and further distress when the victim takes part in the criminal justice process.
This is an EU directive. The Bill enshrines the directive, which gives these particular rights to victims, in Irish law. I understand all these same rights apply in all other EU countries. Is that the case? Have all European Union member states transposed this directive into national legislation in their own jurisdictions? In respect of Brexit and whether it will go ahead, which it seems like it will, how will Irish citizens who are victims of crime in mainland Britain and the Six Counties of this island which are under the British Government's control be treated? If Brexit happens this EU directive will no longer have any effect in that jurisdiction. Will the Minister of State answer that question? I say again that we will be bringing forward a small number of amendments, which we believe are relevant, on Committee Stage. We will be fully supportive on Second Stage.