Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016: Report and Final Stages

Amendments Nos. 1, 22, 23, 26 to 34, inclusive, 36, and 39 to 41, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, lines 8 to 10, to delete all words from and including “the” where it firstly occurs in line 8 down to and including “1998;” in line 10 and substitute the following:

“the Criminal Justice Act 1951, the Criminal Procedure Act 1967, the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981, the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, the Criminal Justice Act 1993, the Courts Service Act 1998, the Children Act 2001 and the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012;”.

This is an amendment to the Long Title of the Bill to include reference to the amendment of the Criminal Justice Act 1951, the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981, the Children Act 2001 and the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012. These Acts are being amended by amendments Nos. 26, 30, 32 and the other amendments in this group up to amendment No. 41. They arise from a debate on Committee Stage where a commitment was made to give further consideration to Opposition amendments providing for the right of a victim to be accompanied in court by a support worker. While I am not aware of any concerns in regard to the ongoing court accompaniment of victims of sexual offences by support workers, which is funded by the Department of Justice and Equality, I have taken the views of Deputies on board and I am pleased to be in a position to introduce these amendments, which provide for the right of a victim to be accompanied in court by a support worker, including in circumstances where the public has been excluded. I have considered not just the Bill before us but also similar provisions in other legislation, which is important in terms of ensuring there is a large measure of consistency of approach.

Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 amend section 19 of the Bill while amendments Nos. 26, 33 and 36 amend the Criminal Justice Act 1951, the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981 and the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012, amending similar provisions in those Acts. Amendment No. 29 amends section 41 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 so that the provisions of that section are without prejudice to the right of a support worker to remain in court with a victim in circumstances where the other Acts apply. I have also taken the opportunity to make section 41 of this Bill without prejudice to the right of a parent, a relative or a friend of a victim to remain in court where section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012 applies.

I propose these amendments to the House and seek support accordingly.

We welcome the fact the Government recognised some of the points made in committee and tabled the amendments. However, I would point out there may be slight differences in the text, which I will deal with from the point of view of the Opposition and the Government. Our amendments are essentially identical to those put down by Deputy Jonathan O'Brien and they differ slightly from those put down by Deputy Jim O'Callaghan in the sense that while we provide that a victim can be accompanied in court by a parent, relative, friend "and/or" a support worker, Deputy O'Callaghan proposes the text should read "and" a support worker. What all of the Opposition is trying to do, which the Government has not allowed for, is allow a scenario where somebody wants a family member and a support worker to be present. I do not see why that would not be accommodated by the Minister. We feel the Government amendment, while better than what we had, is a little too limiting.

The role of support workers is key and where somebody is in court as a victim of rape or a sexual crime, it is very important they have the right to be accompanied by a support worker in the absence of, say, a family member or friend. That is precisely because the victims of a rape or sexual assault go through the legal process, at least from a legal point of view, alone. The alleged rapist is legally represented whereas the victim, ironically, is only a witness to the case and unless their past sexual history is being brought up, they do not have a right to any legal representation. That is why we consider, in circumstances where the judge decides to exclude the public or certain persons, that support workers should be among the list of people who will not be excluded and that the choice should be left to the victims themselves.

Amendment No. 3 deals with the definition of restorative justice. The victims directive requires that safeguards must be put in place to protect victims from repeat victimisation and intimidation, and this should apply to any restorative justice service. A definition of restorative justice is needed in legislation.

I do not believe amendment No. 3 is dealt with in this group.

Amendment No. 32 is part of the group so the Deputy might like to deal with it.

Deputy Kenny may discuss it.

Sorry for interrupting.

It is recommended that any definition of restorative justice does not refer to the word "resolve" as it presupposes a resolution of matters and the wording may undermine the impact of the crime for the victim.

For example, a restorative justice scheme could be used in serious cases involving homicide and rape. It would not necessarily be able to resolve matters arising from these crimes, but it could consider resolving those matters which arise from the offence involved.

Amendment No. 3 reads:

In page 7, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:

" "restorative justice scheme" means any scheme administered for the time being under which, with the consent of each of them, a victim and an offender or alleged offender engage with each other to resolve, with the assistance of an impartial third party, matters arising from the offence or alleged offence,".

I am sorry; I was right. That is related to the next section.

We can come back to Deputy Martin Kenny's amendment when we are discussing that group.

Amendment No. 3 is to section 3 and in the name of the Minister.

It is in the next group.

It is in the names of the Minister and Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace. There is another group of amendments to section 3 which I will not go through now. We are dealing with the amendments to section 1.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 41, inclusive.

Amendment No. 28, in the name of Deputy Johnathan O'Brien, is probably one at which we should look. I can be helpful to the House and regret there are 16 amendments in the one group, but it looks more cumbersome than it actually is.

In response to Deputy Clare Daly, we gave consideration to the points raised on Committee Stage. The difference between us is minimal and I hope that in the circumstances we can agree. The difference between the Opposition amendments in the groups and mine on each of the Acts mentioned is the use of the word "or" or "and" between clauses. In effect, we are dealing with a drafting rather than a policy issue. I am satisfied that the use of the word "or" in the text will more correctly achieves what Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace wish to achieve.

The disjunctive "or" is used to distinguish between the right of a parent, relative or friend, a support worker, or a relative of the accused to remain in court for the hearing. Of course, the power of the court to exclude the public is without prejudice to each of the rights individually, but that does not mean that only one of these persons is permitted to remain in court. It means that each clause refers to a separate and distinct right. If we were to use the word "and", it would imply instead that there was one single right for all of the persons listed to remain in court.

I have no doubt that my amendment actually deals with the point at issue in the amendment tabled by Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace. The Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981 provides that the power to exclude the public is without prejudice to the right of a parent, relative or friend of the complainant, or where the accused is not of full age, to remain in court. Clearly, this provision does not mean that either the complainant or the accused may have a person with him or her. Even though the word "or" is used, both parties are and will be permitted to have a person remain in court with them. It is my belief the text, as it stands, allows a parent, relative or friend and the support worker to remain in court, which is the point that has been very well made by Clare Deputy Daly. I ask that my amendments be made.

That is very helpful and absolutely fine.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 2 in the names of Deputies Jim O'Callaghan, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and Jonathan O'Brien involves a potential charge on the Exchequer and has been ruled out of order.

I wish to make point. All of the Opposition Deputies have tabled amendments on this issue which is hugely important and we are really disappointed that the Government has not taken them on board. The point is that the investigating authority has to be broadened if we are to be in compliance with the victims directive and avoid a two tier process. The victims directive states all victims have a right to certain information, but we are limiting it to information on Garda investigations. Other State bodies can prosecute cases in which victims should have the same right. It is very regrettable.

My advice is that the amendment is out of order because it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer but perhaps some people might reflect on it.

It is very unfortunate.

Amendment No. 2 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 3, 6, 24, 25, 35, 37 and 38 are related. Amendment No. 25 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 24, while amendments Nos. 37 and 38 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 35. Therefore, we will discuss all of the amendments together.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 7, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:

" "restorative justice scheme” means any scheme administered for the time being under which, with the consent of each of them, a victim and an offender or alleged offender engage with each other to resolve, with the assistance of an impartial third party, matters arising from the offence or alleged offence;".

I refer to the earlier comments of Deputy Martin Kenny which we will now have an opportunity to debate. Amendments Nos. 3, 6, 24 and 35 insert into the Bill provisions on the rights of victims who participate in restorative justice schemes. Deputies on all sides of the House are in favour of and have highlighted the need for such amendments to be made to the Bill. I am happy, following Committee Stage and a period of reflection since, to bring forward these amendments.

Everybody agrees that there are proven benefits under the concept of restorative justice in addressing the matter of criminal behaviour and giving the victims a real voice in the process. The schemes provide victims with an opportunity to challenge the offender and explain the impact the offence has had on them. However, bringing the victim together with the person who has harmed him or her is a pretty risky business; therefore, of course, it is important that appropriate safeguards be in place to protect the victim from even further hardship, suffering or trauma. That is the aim of the amendments.

It is worth noting that the delay in bringing forward the amendments was not due to any difficulty in practice in providing the necessary safeguards. The majority of these rights, for example, on the issue of informed consent and voluntary agreements, are intrinsic to the successful operation of any restorative justice scheme. They are already part and parcel of the schemes operated by the courts.

I will turn briefly to the specifics of the amendments. Amendment No. 3 defines restorative justice schemes. The definition broadly follows that included in the EU directive, with some revisions to reflect the administrative nature of the schemes we operate through the courts in the State.

Amendment No. 6 provides that information available on restorative justice schemes must be given to a victim when he or she first makes contact with the appropriate authorities.

Amendment No. 24 sets out the rights to which a victim is entitled when he or she elects to participate in a restorative justice scheme. The scheme cannot be used unless it is the interests of the victim and, of course, the offender must acknowledge the essential facts of the offence. The victim and the accused must be fully informed about the process and the potential outcomes and both must freely consent and volunteer to participate. Other protections for the victims include the right to withdraw from the process at any time and a requirement that the person operating the scheme have regard to the need to protect the victim from further victimisation or intimidation.

Separate provision is made in amendment No. 35 for the rights of the victims who participate in restorative justice schemes and in the process involving young offenders under the Children Act 2001. The rights provided for victims in this provision are essentially the same but the text is different, as several of the requirements of the directive have already been provided for in the existing provisions of the Children Act.

Again, I seek support for the amendments as tabled.

The proposed Government amendment to include restorative justice is a welcome development. Restorative justice can be an extremely valuable process for both victim and perpetrator, if done right. A victim being given the opportunity to confront somebody who committed a crime against them can be empowering. It can also have a profound effect on the perpetrator for the simple and obvious reason that when a perpetrator understands the effects and consequences of their actions, it can be a powerful lever for rehabilitation.

However, there are a few issues with the Government's proposal which our amendment seeks to address. Article 12(1)(d) of the victims directive provides that any restorative justice agreement is arrived at voluntarily and may be taken into account in any further criminal proceedings. We have to be careful because a victim may believe that an offender is only engaging in restorative justice with a view to getting some credit in a sentencing hearing. As a result, if the victim does not have the assurance that an agreement reached between parties will only be taken into consideration by a court with the consent of both parties, then they may not find the restorative justice process as valuable and useful as they might otherwise do.

Our amendment, therefore, seeks to fix this gap in the Government’s amendment. The Government’s amendment does not explicitly set out that an agreement will only be considered by the courts if both parties have consented. Our amendment does.

It is worth pointing out also that a victim may not engage in the process, or they may delay in engaging in it if they believe an agreement could be presented to the court. They may be nervous, concerned about confidentiality or any number of matters. To protect the integrity of the restorative justice process and to encourage victims to engage with it, it is crucial any agreement reached between the parties should only be disclosed to the court if both parties agree to it.

Article 12(1)(c) of the victims directive states that restorative justice should only be facilitated where the offender has acknowledged the basic facts of the case. Our amendment No. 38 will insert this important safeguard in the Children Act 2001. It is the same amendment as those tabled by Deputies O’Callaghan and Jonathan O'Brien.

The only difference between my amendment No. 24 and amendment No. 25 is the requirement in section 25(4)(b) that the consent of both parties required for agreement reached as part of the restorative justice process can be admitted to court. I invite Deputy Wallace to agree with me that the consent of all parties is fundamental to the entire process.

Looking at these amendments, I agree it is an important safeguard. Having regard to what Deputy Wallace said, I am prepared to accept amendment No. 25. By so doing, I will withdraw my amendment No. 24. That will address the concerns of Deputies Wallace and Clare Daly.

Amendments Nos. 37 and 38, proposed by Deputies O'Callaghan, Jonathan O'Brien, Clare Daly and Wallace, seek to add a requirement in respect of the Children Act that the offender acknowledge the basic facts of the offence. The reason this requirement has not been included in my amendment is that section 23 of the Children Act already requires the child to accept responsibility for his or her criminal behaviour before he or she can be admitted to the diversion programme. In fact, we have already catered for this as the restorative justice schemes are administered as part of youth diversion programmes. The child must have already accepted responsibility for the offence at an earlier stage in the process. The proposed amendments would duplicate this requirement, but without providing for a child to consult with his or her parents or to seek legal advice before doing so, as is provided in section 23 of the Children Act.

Will Deputy Wallace accept these provisions are already fully catered for in law, albeit in a different statute?

We will go along with the Minister and withdraw our amendment No. 38 when we reach it.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 9, line 11, to delete “medical support,”.

This amends section 6(1)(a) which provides that a victim shall be offered information on services providing support for victims. On Committee Stage, after much discussion on the matter, an amendment from Deputy Clare Daly was accepted that elaborated on the type of services for which information should be provided. It was agreed at the time that if the amendment required further changes, we could see about facilitating these amendments on Report Stage.

In most respects, the provision is acceptable. However, there is a difficulty which arises with requiring a garda or an officer to provide information regarding medical support to a victim. Difficulties arise about the nature and level of information required regarding medical support. Where immediate medical care is required, the garda at the scene of an incident already has an obligation to request such care. Aside from this, it is not clear how general information could be provided on medical support and, more particularly, on how a garda or officer could determine where such information is relevant without a level of questioning that may well be invasive. In such circumstances of first contact, a garda could face an obligation to provide information that he or she could only glean by way of first contact that might not be fully appropriate.

In addition, the first point of call for most medical support would be a GP. However, only the victim will know the identity of his or her GP. GPs act as private practitioners and, in the circumstances, it may not be appropriate for the Garda Síochána, or even in some circumstances for GSOC, to provide information for one GP without providing similar information for all other GPs which may, from time to time, offer services in the district or the region. With this in mind, the amendment seeks to remove medical support from the list provided under section 6(1)(a).

Amendment No. 5 is a drafting amendment.

It merely clarifies that psychological support services are a subject of an appropriate specialist service but it does not alter the substance of the provision.

We have really benefitted from the discussion we had on Committee Stage. In fairness, the Government has taken on a huge amount of what was discussed. I am a little concerned, however, that one of the very small number of my amendments that actually got accepted on Committee Stage has been changed now. On Committee Stage, when it was accepted, the purpose was ensuring that we comply with the victims directive in its entirety whereby members of the Garda shall arrange for individuals to be referred to appropriate or specialist services, or both. The directive uses the wording, "shall facilitate the referral...to victim support services". Article 8(1) uses the phrase, "in accordance with their specific needs." We wanted to ensure this provision would be honoured in all circumstances. I hear what the Minister is saying but I would have preferred the original format, to be honest.

On what the Minister was saying, the Garda has an obligation to provide information to individuals in their station in a number of circumstances. For instance, people who are accused of criminal offences are given lists of legal aid solicitors by the Garda. The intention behind Deputy Daly's amendment was that the Garda would also be in a position to provide them with details of general practitioners and medical services. I understand the point the Minister made but we need to provide greater guidance to gardaí and Garda stations when it comes to the list of individuals available, be they legal aid solicitors or, as Deputy Daly sought to include, general practitioners or others involved in the provision of medical services.

I acknowledge what Deputy Daly said but I fear there could be consequences owing to the onerous burden placed on the Garda officer at first contact whereby the provisions of the Bill, unless amended, might not be fully met. The spirit of what we all wish to see happening here is in no way adversely affected, lessened or weakened. That is why I am anxious to have amendment No. 4 accepted. There is broad agreement on amendment No. 5.

The removal of medical support would weaken the legislation. It states "where relevant". One could say "where applicable" also. Having listened to the Minister, I do not fully get his rationale. Ultimately, medical support, or at least advice on where it can be sought or provided, is one of the first things one would expect a member of An Garda to be offering in the circumstances in question. I am not sure that the Minister's rationale stands up.

It is the offering of information relating to medical services that could very well pose a difficulty. How would a garda be in a position to provide information to somebody who is quite likely to be a registered patient or client of a designated medical practitioner in the area? In the circumstances, I believe the provision of such information may not be of any benefit to the particular person, having regard to the fact that it is information provided at the point of first contact. I would be concerned that, unless the appropriate amendment is made, it could give rise to undue difficulties that we really do not intend to see occurring.

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, line 12, to delete "including psychological support services," and substitute "(which may include psychological support services)".

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 9, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:

"(m) restorative justice schemes, where available;".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are related. Amendment No. 8 is a physical alternative to No. 7, and they are to be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 10, to delete lines 9 to 11 and substitute the following:

"(a) he or she may specify in his or her request whether the information is to be provided orally or in writing, including by electronic means, and

(b) he or she shall be provided with such information—

(i) as soon as practicable, and

(ii) in so far as is practicable, in the manner specified in his or her request."

Amendment No. 7 allows a victim to specify the means by which information should be provided to him or her and requires that the information, in so far as is practicable, be provided in the manner specified. The amendment is being introduced to address the concern raised by Deputies on Committee Stage that it would be for the Garda or GSOC to determine the manner in which information is provided to a victim. It is sufficient to address the concerns raised by the Deputies opposite without imposing any obligations on the authorities that might be open to misinterpretation or that might, in the circumstances, not be practical. The amendment meets the concerns of the Deputies. I will be happy to hear Deputy Daly on it, particularly in respect of the difference between amendments Nos. 7 and 8.

We definitely acknowledge and appreciate that the Government has tabled amendment No. 7 in the first place. It arose out of the Committee Stage debate and issues we raised. It is broadly similar to amendment No. 8 but, as with many of our amendments, there are subtle differences. The subtle difference in this case is that ours provides that if a victim specifically requests that the information would be given to him or her orally, as opposed to in writing, or in writing as opposed to orally, the request "shall be" complied with. The Government's amendment, by comparison, uses the wording "in so far as is practicable". We believe that in the spirit of the victims directive, the obligation should be on the Garda. Where there is a deaf person, for example, there is no point in giving him or her the information orally. He or she should get it in writing. The garda could say he or she has not time to be giving the information in writing and that it is not practical but the obligation should be to meet the needs of the victim. The information we are talking about is critical information on which victims need to rely and that they need to understand. While we welcome the point made, if victims are to be discriminated against at this stage it would actually go against the spirit of the directive itself. It is better not to include "in so far as is practicable" and instead oblige the garda to give the information orally or in writing as the victim requests. Mine is a fairly minor request and I hope the Minister will agree with it.

I refer the Deputy to what I said a moment ago about what might be practical or less than workable in the circumstances. We have to ensure that whatever legislation we pass here can be given practical effect by those who will be engaged by it. Obviously, the victim is of primary concern here but there are, of course, duties that will be placed on the shoulders of members of An Garda Síochána and, in certain circumstances, members of GSOC. The difference between my amendment No. 7 and amendment No. 8 in the names of Deputies Wallace and Daly is the caveat that the victim's preference must be followed only in so far as is practicable.

I am seeking to include the words "in so far as is practicable" in subsection (b) in order to make provision for and account for the likelihood of instances in which a Garda officer or a member of GSOC is not in a position to comply with a request with immediate effect. For example, this might well occur if the victim requests information via email where there might not be a proper and adequate email address or where the address is incorrect or invalid.

A similar situation might occur if the victim requests the information in a foreign language. This information cannot be provided orally but can be provided in a physical or an electronic document. There are some practical circumstances that will arise from time to time that will contravene something occurring with immediate effect. I do not believe the spirit of the legislation or the letter of the legislation is in any way weakened by including the words "in so far as is practicable". Of course, there will be circumstances in which that will be tested. For example, in a subsequent hearing or any subsequent Act, the officer may well have to show that he or she acted with all due haste in the context of the victim's preference, insofar as the circumstances are practicable. I would be concerned that the letter of the law might not be in a position to be valid.

I blame myself for not explaining the differences between the amendments more sharply at the outset. I accept the points made by the Minister about "as soon as practicable". However, our amendment keeps that and is identical to the Government amendment in that respect.

Let us be clear. This is about the victim's directive and his or her interests being paramount. We do not want to impose ridiculous demands on the Garda. Both amendments state that the victims can request the information either orally, in writing or via electronic means. We are all saying that. Both amendments state that he or she shall be provided with that information "as soon as practicable". We are allowing for a scenario in which a garda might be very busy on the night and is able to say that he or she cannot give the information at that moment, but will do so as soon as is practicable. We are allowing for the timeframe. What the amendment does not allow for is the use of time in order not to give the information in that format at all. The amendment does not go on to state, as the Government amendment does, "in so far as is practicable, in the manner specified in his or her request". He or she should always be entitled to it in the manner in which he or she requested. However, we accept that that may not always be immediate. We do accept "as soon as practicable", but do not accept it the second time around. We are keen to push the amendment in that regard. I hope that makes more sense.

I return to the point I made earlier. I am concerned that it would have an impractical consequence on the legislation. We gave very careful consideration to the point Deputy Daly raised. However, I believe amendment No. 7 deals with the issues raised on Committee Stage. I would be concerned that going beyond that with an undue obligation or an obligation that, in the circumstances, might not be in a position to be met could be a practice reaction or a practice process.

Amendment put and declared carried.

Amendment No. 8 cannot be moved as it is a physical alternative to amendment No. 7.

Amendment No. 8 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 9, 18 and 19 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 10, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

“(6) Where a member of the Garda Síochána or an officer of the Ombudsman Commission, as the case may be, decides to exclude a person from accompanying a victim pursuant to subsection (5), the member or officer, as the case may be, shall inform the victim that subsection (4) continues to apply and he or she may be accompanied by another person under that subsection and may make such arrangements as are necessary to be so accompanied.”.

In moving amendment No. 9, I remind Deputies that on Committee Stage, amendments were proposed that sought to ensure that where a victim is accompanied either during first contact when making a complaint or during an interview and the garda or officer of GSOC excludes the accompanying person, the victim would be given an opportunity to arrange for an alternative person to accompany him or her. There were difficulties with the amendments proposed on that Stage. Amendments Nos. 9, 18 and 19 address this issue. Again, I note that in each circumstance, the victim is present at his or her own volition and there is not a power on the part of the Garda officer or any other officer to compel the victim to stay or to continue with the contact, complaint or interview at all. The victim is at all times free to come or go and to make arrangements as appropriate in respect of any alternative accompanying person. With this in mind, the proposed amendments require the garda or the officer to inform the victim that although an accompanying person has been excluded, the victim still has a right to be accompanied and may make any appropriate arrangements to be so accompanied.

I very much welcome the fact that the Government took on board the Committee Stage discussion.

Amendment put and declared carried.

Amendment No. 10 has been ruled out of order due to a potential charge to the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 10 not moved.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 10, line 34, to delete “appropriate and/or specialist” and substitute “appropriate, and where relevant specialist,”.

This is a technical amendment to replace the use of "and/or". The amendment is not intended to change the substance of the provision. The use of "and/or" is problematic in the Statute Book and is in general terms avoided. In legal drafting, "and/or" can be ambiguous as it leaves two words with different meanings in the text and does not choose between these words. From a drafting perspective, it is preferable to use the alternative wording that has the same effect. This is what amendment No. 11 seeks to do.

The only aspect of concern with regard to this amendment is towards the end of that sentence in subsection (8), which the amendment proposes to change to "appropriate, and where relevant specialist, service". Where it states "service", there should be the plural of "services" put in rather than the singular. In many cases, there may be a number of different agencies that a victim would have to be referred to rather than just one.

This concerns subsection (8) of section 6. I know that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle ruled amendment No. 10 out of order. The objective here and what we are trying to do is to build up a mechanism-----

I thought it was out of order.

I am referring to amendment No. 11. I said that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle ruled amendment No. 10 out of order. The objective of the section is to try to create a framework by which members of An Garda Síochána will refer victims on to specialist agencies. We do not want to do so when there is a minor offence as that may not be appropriate. However, we need to ensure that there is a practice within An Garda Síochána so that people who are the victims of crimes and who report those crimes are referred on.

I know the concern about other aspects of this was that it was put in but the Minister wished it to be a discretionary remedy on the part of An Garda Síochána while other Members wanted to make it mandatory. I support the amendment but there is more to it than simply the amendment. We need to build up the practice within An Garda Síochána whereby gardaí refer victims of crime to specialist agencies.

I acknowledge what Deputy O'Callaghan said.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 12 to 17, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 11, line 12, before "information" to insert "all relevant".

I will break this group of amendments down into two mini-groups. I will discuss amendments Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, first. They are pretty similar but slightly different. This first mini-group has the aim of ensuring victims are provided with all the information they need, including all the information they need to request a review of a decision by the DPP not to proceed with a prosecution. As it stands, this section provides that victims shall be provided with information relating to any significant developments in the investigation of the alleged offence, information regarding a decision not to proceed with or to discontinue the investigation and a summary of the reasons for the decision, information regarding a decision not to institute criminal proceedings in respect of the alleged offence and a summary of the reasons for the decision as well as the victim's right to request a review of a decision referred to in subparagraph (i) and the procedure for requesting the review.

Obviously, the ideal would encompass all information but that would likely be rejected out of hand because the Garda and the DPP would have strong grounds to say that at least some information with regard to a decision not to proceed would always be too sensitive to be released. I understand the Minister will say that the term "all relevant" is not necessary and that victims will get all relevant information as a matter of course but I am afraid I just do not buy that. In particular, when we are talking about the DPP, I think it must be made crystal clear that the DPP cannot get away with fobbing victims off with dribs and drabs of information but must tell them everything that is relevant. It is only very recently that the DPP has started to open up at all about decisions to prosecute or not prosecute after years of stony silence. Gentle pressure needs to be brought to bear to keep up that culture change and to ensure the DPP does not fall back into old habits of stony silence.

Amendments Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive, add to the already long list in the Bill of types of information that are to be provided by investigators to the victim on request. They add a number of extra categories of information, including conditions under which a sentence is suspended or part suspended, any post-release supervision orders imposed on the convicted person, conditions of bail and the procedure the victim should follow if bail conditions are breached, for example, in the case of a sexual offence, if the offender approaches the victim. As the Rape Crisis Network points out, in sexual cases, there may be a very lengthy gap between the institution of proceedings and the first court date and between the first court date and the trial date. This leaves many victims feeling frightened that they or their loved ones will be intimidated by the accused and-or their associates during this period and it is important that they know not only whether there are any bail conditions restricting contact with themselves but also what they can do if some breach of same or separate intimidating or harassing behaviour occurs. It would also be very helpful and reassuring for victims to be told the details of any post-trial or post-conviction order other than imprisonment which is aimed at preventing them from suffering harm at the hands of the person accused or convicted. It would seem absolutely appropriate to provide information about things like bail conditions, post-release orders and harassment orders to, for example, victims of sexual crimes, as there are several different kinds of orders which may be made post-trial or post-conviction in this kind of case and it is important victims understand that these orders are available, that they may be applied for and that once made, they may be enforced.

I acknowledge the points raised by Deputy Wallace in the context of this series of amendments dealing with the provision of information and do not doubt the sincerity of the points raised by him. A number of different issues are raised in these amendments and I will address them in turn. I see a difficulty with the insertion of the words "all relevant" in section 6, which is proposed in amendments Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, in terms of workability. I go back to what I said earlier about ensuring that what we enshrine in legislation by way of explicit provisions has a practical effect and that the legislation will not be ambiguous, uncertain or unduly cumbersome. Amendment No. 12 would require all relevant information regarding significant developments in an investigation to be provided upon the request of the victim. The scope of the information that could be designated as relevant could encompass the entire case files with many documents, some of which by their nature might be required to remain confidential or would be so on the basis of an investigation taking place.

Amendment No. 13 would require all relevant information regarding a decision not to pursue or, indeed, to cease an investigation to be provided. The reasons for not pursuing or ceasing an investigation could be based on a large number of sources and documents, all of which could be relevant to that decision.

The production of all relevant documents relating to a decision to discontinue a prosecution, as provided for in amendment No. 14, would require the DPP to produce a potentially vast number of files, some of which would be confidential, in order to satisfy this requirement. I have no doubt that such a requirement would place a pretty significant burden on the office of the DPP and I wonder what the benefit of what might be an unreasonable disclosure to the victim would be. I do not see how the victim would at all times benefit here.

We need to look at the objectives of the victims' directive, an important goal of which is to keep the victim informed of the progress of an investigation, not to give him or her access to all of the material that is relevant to it. These amendments could require vast amounts of information to be provided to victims going far beyond the scope of the directive or, indeed, going far beyond what in the circumstances might be the needs and requirements of victims. It is important we remain proportionate here and I do not believe these amendments are proportionate and even appropriate, so I am not in a position to accept them. I believe the legislation adequately covers in practice what in the circumstances might be required to fulfil the stated aim of Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly.

The changes proposed in amendment No. 15 are already provided for in section 7(2) of the Bill. Section 7(2)(j) requires the victim to be given information on the sentence imposed or any orders related to the judgment. Any conditions under which a sentence is suspended form part of that sentence and any conditions attached to a post-release supervision order form part of the order in any event so the provision of this information is already required under the Bill. I do not believe the insertions of provisions for subcategories of sentences and orders is necessary because we have already provided for the outcome in any event.

Amendment No. 16 seeks to add bail conditions which relate to the victim to the list of information he or she is entitled to receive. On Committee Stage we added to section 7(2)(a) an amendment which actually meets that issue. The remainder of amendment No. 16 seeks to have information provided for victims on the procedures to be followed where a bail condition is breached, including information on the offence of witness intimidation.

Amendment No. 17 would require additional information to be provided for a victim on request on various procedures and offences. I agree with Deputy Mick Wallace that this information is important and should be provided for victims. Most of it will be provided under section 14 of the Bill. Under that section, every victim must be individually assessed to identify his or her protection needs and protection measures required, in addition to special measures during the investigation, or special measures that may be necessary in the context of core proceedings. The protection measures that must be provided for in every circumstance where the victim would benefit from them explicitly include information and advice on personal safety, information and advice on harassment orders, applications for bail add conditions of bail, all of which must be discussed with the victim at the time of the assessment. The section already provides in a more comprehensive and victim-focused manner for the making available of most of the information which Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly seek in their amendments to have provided.

While I am conscious of the time - as we are on Report Stage, I might not get another opportunity to speak - in respect of the harassment order under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, a range of amendments to this Bill will be necessary to take account of the 2017 Act, particularly with regard to the provision of criminal evidence. The amendments are being prepared and will be introduced in the Seanad. Consideration is being given to whether information on harassment orders under the Act might explicitly be included in the definition and protection measures in this Bill. Where such an order is made, information will be provided for the victim under section 7.

I am prepared to accept that the giving of information on some of the issues such as bail conditions and harassment orders is already provided for in a different arena. In that context, we want to strengthen that measure and add it as an extra burden. I am definitely pushing the first group of amendments in this broader category which are more important to us. I think the Minister has made a straw man argument in asking what information would be needed and if we are making it too cumbersome. That is precisely the point we make. Victims are entitled to the information. That is their prerogative and the Bill, in the way it has been designed, specifies that they are entitled to information. We do not say they should be entitled to receive all information. In fact, we have said our preference is that they be entitled to receive all information, but as that is not practical - particularly with reference to the Director of Public Prosecutions, some information will have to be confidential - we specifically do not say that. We instead refer to "all relevant information". Confidential information linked with the prosecution would clearly not be relevant in this scenario.

What it is really about is achieving a culture change and putting the rights and interests of victims first, which is what the directive asks us to do. When one is dealing with State bodies which are coming from a closed background where they have not had to justify or provide information on their decision making, the legislation, as we put it forward, should encourage a process of openness, a right victims have. The Minister says somebody could lean on it and say to the Director of Public Prosecutions that he or she was going to take action against them because the Bill referred to "all relevant information" and that he or she had not received all relevant information. It would then become too cumbersome. One could make that argument based on the fact that the Bill already refers to "information", but we are trying to lessen the challenge to the Director of Public Prosecutions by forcing a culture change in the organisation or assisting of that process by saying it should be opened up to include all relevant information, not just the bare minimum. It would put a greater onus on the Director of Public Prosecutions and, because of the history of that organisation and what it has traditionally been, when we are in a transition period, it is important to insert the words "all relevant". In fact, by inserting the word "relevant", we have met the concerns of the Minister that it would be a free for all, that people would receive everything and that the Director of Public Prosecutions would not be able to do anything because the needs of victims were being accommodated.

We have to see this for what it is. It is the victims directive and about victims' rights which will put more of an onus on the State bodies that deal with victims, as it should, because that is what we are trying to deal with. Victims have rights, including a right to be heard and receive information. The last point is that we all know the damage that has been done where, for example, cases have not proceeded because people did not have access to information and the questions and uncertainties surrounding it. That, in some ways, revictimised them because they had been kept in the dark. We are precisely trying to avoid that scenario.

"All relevant information" raises the question of to what it is relevant. Is it relevant to the decision or the victim? I do not disagree with what Deputy Clare Daly has said about the provision of important information. Of course, it should be provided for the victims and that should be required under the Bill, but many of these points are already provided for within the legislation in another area. What I want to do and will do between now and the enactment of the legislation is to ensure there are no gaps in it. I have found what the Deputies have said on Committee Stage and today to be helpful, but in essence I do not want anything in the Bill to be impractical, unworkable, uncertain or unduly onerous in circumstances where there would not be a benefit to the victim. That is the important point. We need to ensure what is in the Bill is of practical import.

I want to make the point on the matter of orders on sex offenders that it is the exception. The orders are not linked with a specific offence but rather the subsequent behaviour of an offender. It may occur many years later and might not have any connection at all with the victim or the offence. It may not be possible or appropriate to provide a victim with this information, but I will examine the points further. Having regard to the fact that we have had a constructive debate so far and not divided and that I have been prepared to accept a number of amendments, I ask the Deputies to accept my bona fides on this issue. I do not wish at any stage to do anything other than ensure the victim is at the heart of these proceedings which I think everyone will agree is the case. That said, I do not want to introduce in this legislation any aspect that would be unworkable.

We have made it clear that we are not saying all information should be given but "all relevant information". The Minister has asked whether that is all information relevant to the case or the victim. We say it is all information relevant to the victim to ensure he or she would receive all of the information he or she might possibly require. The Minister might say that is too cumbersome, but we are not saying that. It is possible that there could be information relevant to the case that it might not be essential for the victim to receive. We are not going to push the matter to a vote either, but we ask the Minister to look at it. It is essential that victims receive as much information as they are due. Everyone would be better off in the long term if they were to receive it.

The spirit of the Bill will be honoured more if we ensure that as much information as possible gets to who it should.

I thank the Deputy. I have taken careful note of what he said.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 11, line 23, before "information" to insert "all relevant".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 14.

In page 11, line 25, before "information" to insert "all relevant".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 12, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

"(vi) any relevant conditions under which a sentence imposed on the convicted person, is suspended or part-suspended;

(vii) any relevant post-release supervision order conditions imposed on the convicted person;".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 13, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

"(p) where a person is granted bail, information regarding—

(i) conditions of bail insofar as they are relevant to the safety and welfare of the victim,

(ii) any breach of bail conditions,

(iii) the procedure to be followed if any breach of relevant bail conditions by the accused occurs or is suspected,

(iv) the criminal offence of witness intimidation, and

(v) the procedure to be followed when witness intimidation by the accused is suspected and/or occurs.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 13, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

"(p) information on the procedures governing the issuing of anti-harassment orders under section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997, where relevant;

(q) information regarding any harassment order made or proposed to be made under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017;

(r) information on the procedures governing the issuing of harassment orders under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017;

(s) information regarding sex offenders orders under the Sex Offenders Act 2001.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 16, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

"(3) Where a member of the Garda Síochána or an officer of the Ombudsman Commission, as the case may be, decides to exclude a person from accompanying a victim pursuant to

subsection (2), the member or officer, as the case may be, shall inform the victim that subsection (1) continues to apply and he or she may be accompanied by another person under

that subsection and may make such arrangements as are necessary to be so accompanied.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 17, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

"(4) Where a member of the Garda Síochána or an officer of the Ombudsman Commission, as the case may be, decides to exclude a person from accompanying a victim pursuant to

subsection (3), the member or officer, as the case may be, shall inform the victim that subsection (2) continues to apply and he or she may be accompanied by another person under

that subsection and may make such arrangements as are necessary to be so accompanied.".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 20 is in the name of the Aire. Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 19, line 22, to delete "member" where it secondly occurs and substitute "officer".

These are technical amendments. Amendment No. 20 to section 14 corrects a mistake that refers to the "member" of the Ombudsman Commission instead of the correct reference to the "officer" of the Ombudsman Commission. The amendment does not make any change to the substance of the provision.

Amendment No. 21 is also a technical amendment. It amends section 19 of the Bill by the substitution of "representatives" of the press for "members" of the press. The term "representatives" is the more correct term and I understand to be consistent with other similar references on the Statute Book.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 23, line 23, to delete "members" and substitute "representatives".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 23, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

"(ii) a support worker of the victim's choice,".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 23, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:

"(3) In this section, "support worker" means a volunteer of, or an individual employed under a contract of service or under a contract for services by, an organisation which provides support to victims of crime.".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 24 not moved.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 26, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

"Restorative justice

25. (1) In respect of any offence or alleged offence, a body or other person shall administer a restorative justice scheme (in this section referred to as a "scheme") only if the requirements of this section are complied with.

(2) The offender or alleged offender shall—

(a) acknowledge the basic facts of the offence committed or offence alleged to have been committed, as the case may be, against the victim, and

(b) give his or her free and informed consent to participating in the scheme.

(3) The victim shall—

(a) receive full and unbiased information about—

(i) the scheme and the potential outcomes of participating in the scheme,

(ii) the procedures for supervising and implementing any agreement that may be reached between the parties in the context of the scheme, and

(iii) his or her right to withdraw at any time his or her consent to participating in the scheme,

and

(b) having received such information, give his or her free and informed consent to participating in the scheme.

(4) Where a scheme is administered—

(a) any agreement between the parties reached in the context of the scheme shall only be so reached on the basis of the free and informed consent of each of the parties,

(b) an agreement reached in the manner referred to in paragraph (a) may, with the consent of both parties, be taken into account by a court in any criminal proceedings relating to the offence or alleged offence which is the subject of the parties' participation in the scheme, and

(c) any discussions between the parties which form part of their participation in the scheme and which are not conducted in public shall not be disclosed, save with the agreement of the parties or as required by law.

(5) The body or person which or who administers a scheme shall—

(a) prior to the commencement of the parties’ participation in the scheme inform them of each of the matters referred to in subsection (4),

(b) be satisfied that the victim’s participation in the scheme is in the interests of the victim, and

(c) in administering the scheme, have regard to the need to safeguard the victim from secondary and repeat victimisation, intimidation or retaliation.

(6) Nothing in this section shall affect the operation of Parts 4 and 8 of the Act of 2001.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 26, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 20 of Criminal Justice Act 1951

25. Section 20 of the Criminal Justice Act 1951 is amended—

(a) in subsection (4), by the substitution of "of that person or a support worker chosen by a person referred to in paragraph (b)" for "of that person", and

(b) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (6):

"(7) In this section, 'support worker' means a volunteer of, or an individual employed under a contract of service or under a contract for services by, an organisation which provides support to victims of crime.".".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 26, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 4I of Criminal Procedure Act 1967

25. Section 4I of the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 is amended—

(a) by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):

"(3) Subsection (2) is without prejudice to the right of—

(a) a parent, relative or friend of the accused or of an injured party, and

(b) a support worker chosen by an injured party, to remain in court in any case to which section 20(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 1951, section 6 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981, section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012 or section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 applies.".".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 26, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 4I of Criminal Procedure Act 1967

25. Section 4I of the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 is amended—

(a) by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):

"(3) Subsection (2) is without prejudice to the right of—

(a) a parent, relative or friend of the accused or of an injured party, and/or

(b) a support worker chosen by an injured party, to remain in court in any case to which section 20(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 1951, section 6 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981, section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012 or section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 applies.".".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 26, to delete lines 26 to 30 and substitute the following:

"Amendment of section 4I of Criminal Procedure Act 1967

25. Section 4I of the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 is amended—

(a) by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):

"(3) Subsection (2) is without prejudice to the right of—

(a) a parent, relative or friend of the accused or of an injured party, or

(b) a support worker chosen by an injured party,

to remain in court in any case to which section 20(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 1951, section 6 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981, section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012 or section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 applies.", and

(b) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (3):

"(4) In this section, 'support worker' means a volunteer of, or an individual employed under a contract of service or under a contract for services by, an organisation which provides support to victims of crime.".".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 26, to delete lines 26 to 30 and substitute the following:

"Amendment of section 6 of Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981

25. Section 6 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981 is amended—

(a) by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):

"(3) Subsections (1) and (2) are without prejudice to the right of—

(a) a parent, relative or friend of the complainant or, where the accused is not of full age, of the accused, and

(b) a support worker chosen by the complainant, to remain in court.".".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 31 not moved.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 26, to delete lines 26 to 30 and substitute the following:

"Amendment of section 6 of Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981

25. Section 6 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981 is amended—

(a) by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):

"(3) Subsections (1) and (2) are without prejudice to the right of—

(a) a parent, relative or friend of the complainant or, where the accused is not of full age, of the accused, and/or

(b) a support worker chosen by the complainant, to remain in court.".".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 26, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 6 of Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981

26. Section 6 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981 is amended—

(a) by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):

"(3) Subsections (1) and (2) are without prejudice to the right of—

(a) a parent, relative or friend of the complainant or, where the accused is not of full age, of the accused, or

(b) a support worker chosen by the complainant, to remain in court.", and

(b) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (4):

"(5) In this section, 'support worker' means a volunteer of, or an individual employed under a contract of service or under a contract for services by, an organisation which provides support to victims of crime.".".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 34 not moved.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 32, after line 36, to insert the following:

"Amendment of Act of 2001

29. (1) The Act of 2001 is amended—

(a) in section 3(1), by the insertion of the following definition:

" 'secondary victimisation' has the same meaning as it has in the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017;",

(b) in section 26—

(i) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (1):

"(1A) Where the Director invites a victim to be present at the administration of a formal caution pursuant to subsection (1), he or she shall ensure that the victim—

(a) is provided with full and unbiased information about the process of administering a formal caution and the potential outcomes of the process under this Act, and

(b) is informed that he or she may withdraw at any time his or her consent to being so present.", and

(ii) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (2):

"(2A) The member of the Garda Síochána administering the formal caution shall, where a victim is present at the administration of the caution, have regard to the need to safeguard the victim from secondary and repeat victimisation, intimidation or retaliation while the victim is so present.",

(c) by the insertion of the following section after section 32:

"Attendance at conference by victim

32A. (1) Where the facilitator invites a victim to be present at a conference pursuant to section 32(4), he or she shall ensure that the victim—

(a) is provided with full and unbiased information about—

(i) the process relating to a conference,

(ii) the potential outcomes of the process under this Act, and

(iii) the procedures for monitoring the implementation of, and compliance with, an action plan,

and

(b) is informed that he or she may withdraw at any time his or her consent to being so present.

(2) The facilitator shall, where a victim is present at a conference, have regard to the need to safeguard the victim from secondary and repeat victimisation, intimidation or retaliation while the victim is so present.",

and

(d) in section 85, by the substitution of "32, 32A," for "32,".".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 32, after line 36, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 8 of Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012

30. Section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012 is amended—

(a) by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (2):

"(2) Subsection (1) is without prejudice to the right of—

(a) a parent, relative or friend of the girl or woman in respect of whom the offence is alleged to have been committed or, where the accused person is not of full age, of the accused person, or

(b) a support worker chosen by the girl or woman referred to in paragraph (a),

to remain in court.", and

(b) by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (3):

"(4) In this section, 'support worker' means a volunteer of, or an individual employed under a contract of service or under a contract for services by, an organisation which provides support to victims of crime.".".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 37 to 41, inclusive, cannot be moved.

Amendments Nos. 37 to 41, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 42 to 45, inclusive, are out of order as they involve a potential charge on Revenue.

Amendments Nos. 42 to 45, inclusive, not moved.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Are we going to be allowed to say anything on the Bill?

You have been so good that it would be difficult to refuse you, but it will be time limited.

Is that a "Yes"?

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Will the Minister speak first?

One moment, Minister. Deputy Daly may wish to respond.

We will let the Minister speak first.

Perhaps the Minister could respond to a point. I wish to acknowledge the work of the Minister, the former Minister for Justice and Equality and the officials in the Department for taking on board much of the discussion on Committee Stage, even before we got here today. It is good when we are arguing over an "and" or an "or". That is always useful because it shows we have scrutinised the Bill.

Having said that, I am keen to make one point about the amendments that were ruled out of order and that the Government did not take on board on Committee Stage. These related to the urgent need for the establishment of a victims ombudsman. On Committee Stage Deputy O'Brien in particular had urged that the Government might bring in some of our amendments. Unfortunately, the Government did not do so.

My only point is that the recital in the victims directive makes the point about the need for a sole point of access or one-stop-shop. There is an urgent requirement for a victims ombudsman. As was said before, many of the groups that deal with victims have engaged in numerous discussions with existing ombudsman offices. They could see a victims ombudsman being incorporated under one of the existing offices, for example, the Ombudsman for Children or the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It need not cost a great deal of money. A stand-alone victims ombudsman would be better. I strongly urge the Minister to return to this option.

I wish to acknowledge the excellent work and input from the voluntary organisations and non-governmental organisations that deal with victims at the coal-face all the time. Their input has been invaluable. In particular, I acknowledge the members of the Victims' Rights Alliance who addressed the committee and informed us so well. They have played a positive role in bringing this Bill to fruition. Maria McDonald from the Victims' Rights Alliance deserves our special thanks and recognition.

I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality and the former Minister for Justice and Equality for the work done on this important legislation. I acknowledge the role played by the justice committee. We had good review of this legislation at the justice committee. As Deputy Daly said, we had presentations from the Victims' Rights Alliance. I too wish to acknowledge the role played by Maria McDonald.

It is important legislation. It may not get the same coverage that other legislation can get in this House. However, for the first time serious legislation dealing with the rights of victims has been put before the Oireachtas and has got through Dáil Éireann today. I hope it will not be long before it is fully enacted and in law.

For many years the criminal law has concentrated on the rights of the accused and on the obligations of prosecutors when it comes to prosecuting the accused for criminal offences. It is right and proper that those laws should exist in statute, but for too long the rights of victims and the place of victims in the criminal justice process has been ignored. I welcome the fact that this legislation will signify the fact that victims of crime are taken seriously by this State. Our legal system recognises that they have a role to play. Our legal system recognises that the State acknowledges that it and its officers have a responsibility to victims of crime. I hope that in future victims of crime will take their place as individuals who are acknowledged by this State as being individuals who have in many instances suffered life-altering experiences.

It is incumbent on all of us, not only legislators but those in An Garda Síochána, the Ombudsman and other individuals involved in the criminal justice system, to ensure that this legislation is actively used. We do not want this to become legislation that sits on the shelf and is sometimes availed of. That is why it is important to continue working on some of the provisions that are discretionary in the legislation. We should move to ensure that these become mandatory in future and that greater emphasis will be placed by the State agencies, whether An Garda Síochána or other agencies, on the fact that when a victim comes to report a crime, that victim has rights that will be acknowledged and respected by the State. It is a good day because this is being passed through Dáil Éireann.

I acknowledge the importance of this legislation. It was a key commitment in the programme for partnership Government. I am pleased that, with cross-party support, it has reached the stage that we have now completed our deliberation in Dáil Éireann. I look forward to further engaging with members of the Upper House in due course.

I thank the Deputies opposite not only for their engagement but for the valuable contributions they have made today and throughout the earlier stages of this legislation. It is essential that we move towards a situation in Irish law whereby we acknowledge in statutory form the place and rights of the victims of crime. We have now passed legislation that will provide victims with a measure of information and support to help them through what has been a time of great difficulty and trauma as victims of crime.

I wish to acknowledge the comments of Deputy Daly not only today but at an earlier stage regarding an ombudsman for victims of crime. I am not against the idea but I believe that we need to embark on considerable research before we are in a position to establish such an office, as proposed by Deputy Daly. It could well be that at some stage in future we will be in a position to do so. I would be happy to revisit the issue but I believe it is important in the first instance that we proceed to enact for the first time legislation that will acknowledge in statute the place of victims at the heart of the criminal justice system and the rights of victims to information and support.

I thank Deputies for the constructive manner in which they approached this legislation. I thank Deputies Wallace and Daly for their amendments and comments. I thank Deputy O'Callaghan and his party. I thank Deputy Kenny for his input this afternoon and I thank Deputy O'Brien for putting forward several amendments.

Question put and agreed to.