I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 is groundbreaking legislation which I am pleased to introduce to the House today. It forms part of a series of legislative reforms I am advancing to improve victims' rights and their experience of the criminal justice system. Victims should be at the heart of the criminal justice system. This Bill, the Domestic Violence Bill, which complements it, and the Mediation Bill, which will be taken in the Houses this week, are all programme for Government commitments.
The three Bills introduce major and wide-ranging reforms that will widen access to justice in this country and ensure the justice system is on the side of the victim and the vulnerable. My Department has published 12 Bills since the Government was formed in May. Exactly one year on from last February's election, it is important to reflect on the legislative agenda we have progressed as a House, despite the new challenges of the Thirty-second Dáil.
I have said in this House previously that the needs of victims of crime have very often been overshadowed by a focus on apprehending and prosecuting perpetrators. We must ensure our response to criminal behaviour is a comprehensive one while putting the needs of victims at the forefront.
It is time the rights of victims were given full recognition in the criminal justice system. The Bill will introduce for the first time statutory rights for victims of crime, marking a fundamental change in the approach to criminal law in Ireland. The main purpose of the Bill is to give effect to provisions of Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. Under the Bill, a victim of a crime will have the right to receive information in clear and concise language on the criminal justice system and the range of services and entitlements available to victims, the progress of the investigation and court proceedings and the release, including temporary release, or escape from custody of an offender who is serving a sentence of imprisonment. Deputies will often have been approached by people who are dissatisfied about the fact that they have not been told how various investigations or court proceedings are developing. Victims will also have the right to an individual assessment to establish measures that may be necessary to protect them from secondary or repeat victimisation, intimidation or retaliation, something about which we hear all too often, and the right to request a review of a decision by the authorities not to initiate a prosecution in their case.
Before outlining the content of the Bill in more detail, I would like to provide some context for the legislation. Victims of crime do not always have a formal role in the criminal justice process in Ireland. They are not generally legally represented and, if they are not also witnesses, may have little access to information and little contact with the agencies tasked with bringing the offender to justice. The criminal justice system is a complex system of law and procedure which can be confusing and difficult to navigate, even for those familiar with its workings. This can be doubly challenging for the victim of a crime who may be vulnerable and traumatised by the crime and isolated and unguided as he or she attempts to engage with criminal justice agencies and systems. The central aim of the Bill is to go some way towards addressing this deficit by providing victims with information, support and assistance across all of their interactions with criminal justice agencies. The vital work being done by the wide range of non-governmental organisations in continuing to provide supports for victims of crime is something I warmly acknowledge. All Deputies will be very aware of the work that is happening in providing support, giving people emotional support, accompanying people to court and counselling and referral to other services. A huge amount of really important work is being done by the non-governmental organisations working in the area of victim support. I was very pleased to be able to secure a 17% increase in this year's budget for these organisations. A total of 58 organisations are in touch with the victims of crime office working across the country and providing the support I have outlined. I have also engaged closely with victims' groups in developing the Bill. I thank them for meeting me on quite a number of occasions to discuss the development of the Bill. On the State side, a victims' services group chaired by my Department has been in place since July 2015. It co-ordinates the work of the criminal justice agencies in preparing for and progressing towards full implementation of the directive. Quite a lot of work has been carried out by the various criminal justice agencies. Representatives of the courts, the Probation Service, the Irish Prison Service and An Garda Síochána have all been involved in this group working to ensure the directive and legislation will be implemented.
The Bill contains 30 sections and largely reflects the EU directive on victims of crime. Part 1 of the Bill is standard. It defines "victim" as any person "who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss, which was directly caused by an offence". This is a broad and inclusive definition which reflects the victim-centred nature of the Bill and the EU directive. The victim is defined not in respect of the offence or the offender but rather by the effect which the crime has had on him or her. The victim benefits from the rights provided under the Bill, regardless of whether a formal complaint is made or a suspect has been identified.
Section 2 defines certain terms used in the Bill. Where a victim has died as a result of an offence, section 2 provides that the victim's family members may avail of the rights provided in the Bill. Section 3 allows the competent authorities to work with family members also.
Section 4 provides that the rights in the Bill shall not apply to criminal proceedings instituted before the commencement of the provisions concerned. This will ensure criminal proceedings already under way are not affected.
Part 2 of the Bill concerns the victim's right to information on his or her case. I have already said a fair bit about this provision. Section 6 sets out a wide range of information which victims must receive when they first make contact with An Garda Síochána or, in certain cases, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Victims will be entitled to receive detailed information on the criminal justice process and the role of a victim within that process. This will include information on the procedure for making a complaint, where to direct inquiries and the circumstances in which they may be able to obtain protection measures or assistance by way of interpretation, translation, legal aid, compensation or expenses. All of the criminal justice agencies have been working out the implications of the directive for each agency. They all have an action plan on which they have been working and implementing for the past while. This is something that will improve with time; it will not happen overnight. We are talking about changes in culture also - reaching out to victims in a way that organisations might not have done previously.
Section 7 goes into detail on the information a victim will receive and when and how he or she can be given the information. Victims must be given information on any significant development in the investigation, including the arrest, charging or release on bail of a suspect and any trial and sentence imposed on an offender. Where an offender is imprisoned or detained as a result of the offence, the victim will be entitled to receive information from the Irish Prison Service, the Central Mental Hospital or a children's detention school. A person can let be it be known that he or she wants to have information, but at this point it is voluntary. There is now a statutory right to receive that information from the Irish Prison Service, the Central Mental Hospital or a children's detention school on any release of, including temporary release, or escape from custody by the offender. Deputies can see that this is all about keeping the victim informed of developments in a particular case he or she has been impacted by in order that he or she will be kept informed from the moment he or she makes contact with An Garda Síochána or a case is opened. The offender could move from prison to probation. Each of these organisations has a responsibility to give that information and keep the victim informed along the way.
Section 10 provides that, unless otherwise required under the Bill, information does not have to be disclosed where it could interfere with an investigation or future criminal proceedings or endanger any person or the security of the State.
Part 3 of the Bill concerns the protection of victims during investigations and criminal proceedings. It goes into detail on the formal complaint. Falling victim to a crime when one is away from home can be particularly difficult and there are a number of specific rights to address the needs of victims of crime in member states other than the one in which they live. Under section 12, if an Irish resident makes a complaint about an offence which took place in another member state, An Garda Síochána must forward the complaint without delay to the member state in which the offence took place. In addition, section 13 provides that victims of crime in Ireland who are resident in another EU member state may have their statements taken immediately. There are many practical protections built in. Section 13 also sets out other measures for the protection of victims during interviews.
As I mentioned, this is a victim-centred Bill. As such, it focuses on the victim and his or her needs.
Sections 14 to 18, inclusive, make provision for the assessment of victims and the implementation of protection and special measures identified by that individual assessment. The assessment must take into account the nature and circumstances of the crime but the focus is very much on the personal needs of the victim.
The protection needs which may be identified include: advice on personal safety and the protection of property; advice on safety orders and barring orders; and applications to remand an offender in custody or to seek conditions on bail. Special measures during investigations may include interviews being conducted by a specially-trained person - by the same person or by a person of the same sex - in premises specially designed for the purpose of conducting interviews. The Bill goes into a lot of detail about protection of the victims and how they should be dealt with by the different agencies.
There is also a section recognising the particular needs of children. The child victims of crime are particularly vulnerable. In determining the special measures which they may benefit from, the Garda must have regard to the best interests of the child and must take the views of the child and his or her parents into account. Of course, a child has to be accompanied by an adult if he or she is being interviewed.
Section 19 provides a power for the court to exclude the public where necessary and section 20 provides that the court may prevent unnecessary questioning regarding a victim's private life.
Sections 21 to 23, inclusive, make provision for the requirements of the EU directive relating to communication, translation and interpretation. Then there is a number of changes that will flow from this legislation that need to be made in some other legislation.
There are also various provisions being introduced which will facilitate evidence being given through live television link or through an intermediary - that is extended to all victims - and various other protections. For example, new provisions are introduced to facilitate a victim giving evidence from behind a screen or other device in order that the victim cannot see the accused and to prohibit the judge and lawyers from wearing wigs and gowns when a child victim is giving evidence.
The Criminal Justice Act 1993 is amended to extend the right to make victim impact statements to victims of all offences, or in certain circumstances their family members. The Bill also amends the Courts Service Act 1998 to require the Courts Service to make arrangements for the separation of victims and their families from offenders and their families in the course of criminal proceedings and, in any new court buildings, to provide separate waiting areas for victims. In the light of some of the old buildings used, this is clearly an issue about which people often speak to us. We are told how difficult it can be when a case is being heard and when the victims and the accused are in the same area. This is a difficult situation. We have this situation in some of the courthouses, here in Dublin and elsewhere. The Bill recognises that we need to have the kind of facilities that respect the different situations in which people find themselves.
The Bill is a significant step forward in recognising the obstacles faced by victims of crime in the criminal justice system and providing victims with support and information to help them through what is often the most difficult process for them.
I hope that Deputies will feel that they can support this legislation. I look forward to hearing what Deputies have to say on this. I thank all of the criminal justice agencies which, as I say, have been working hard to develop their supports to victims and implement new procedures and arrangements so that they reach out to the victims with whom they come in contact.
Unfortunately, the Bill cannot prevent the terrible trauma and harm which many victims suffer as a result of the crimes perpetrated against them but I hope it will prevent further unnecessary trauma and re-victimisation of a person arising from his or her interaction with the criminal justice system.
I commend the Bill to the House.