Amendment No. 16 is a Government amendment. Amendments Nos. 16 to 21, inclusive, 23 to 33, inclusive, and 35 to 37, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages
This is a large and very important group of amendments but the majority are of a technical nature. As all Members know, the Bill was published in December 2016. Two months later, in February 2017, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was enacted. Among the wide-ranging provisions introduced in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act were changes to the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 which overlapped with changes to that Act that are contained in this Bill. The purpose of most of the amendments in this group is to update the text of the Bill to reflect the changes introduced in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017. The substance of the changes introduced in that Act and the substance of the amendments in this Bill as passed by Dáil Éireann are retained.
A small number of amendments in this group will make a material change to the provisions concerned. The language relating to the use of screens to prevent a witness seeing an accused while giving evidence is being changed to refer to a screen being placed in an appropriate location in the courtroom rather than the witness giving evidence from behind the screen. This will allow the screen to be placed either in front of the witness or the accused person depending on the layout of the courtroom, thus ensuring the provision is operable in different settings.
Also to ensure the greatest flexibility in the operation of the provision, the requirement that the accused be able to see the witness is being removed by amendment No. 29. The provision contains an "interests of justice" text to ensure that it may not be used if it would unfairly disadvantage the accused.
Amendment No. 31 replaces the new section 14AA which sets out the matters the court has to have regard to in deciding whether a victim should give evidence via a live television link, with the use of a screen or through an intermediary. The amendment will simplify the provision because concerns were raised that the current wording could require the prosecutor to prove elements of the case prior to the special measures being implemented. This is not the intention and would undermine the purpose of the special measures. The wording proposed in the amendment mirrors provisions currently in the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 and will address these concerns.
One final change to the substance of section 29 is made by amendment No. 37. The amendment concerns section 19 of the Criminal Evidence Act which provides that a person with a mental disorder shall be entitled to the same protections as a child under various provisions of the Criminal Evidence Act. It will limit the sections under which a person with a mental disorder is treated as a child to those sections where no additional protections are available to adults. If an adult can avail of a protection on the basis of his or her personal needs and characteristics then an adult with a mental disorder will be treated in the same way as any other adult and the protection will be assessed having regard to his or her personal capacity and needs.
My colleague, Senator Kelleher, had hoped to speak on this area and I will be very brief. Some concern has been expressed. Most of the amendments are very practical and make a lot of sense and I am very happy to support them. However, perhaps the Minister of State could elaborate on the change in language in amendment No. 31 because concerns have been expressed that there may have been stronger language in the original formulation of the Bill. I ask that he explain the rationale for the changes in amendment No. 31, which deals with matters that should be taken into account. Could he very briefly say what the concern was in that regard?
It is about a victim giving evidence through a live television link. That is the first subsection, as the Senator can see. Subsections (b) and (c) state: "whether, under section 14(1A), the interests of justice require that it direct that questions be put to the victim through an intermediary, or (c) whether, under section 14A(2), the interests of justice require that it direct that a screen or other similar device be positioned, in an appropriate place, so as to prevent the victim from seeing the accused when giving evidence". It is self-explanatory in many ways. It continues: "shall have regard to the need to protect the victim from secondary and repeat victimisation, intimidation or retaliation, taking into account - (i) the nature and circumstances of the case, and (ii) the personal characteristics of the victim.”,”. It is self-explanatory. It is has to do with natural justice and protecting the victim from secondary and repeat victimisation, intimidation or retaliation through the use of screens or video links.
That is fine and it is a positive amendment. However, based on feedback Senator Kelleher and I received I understood that the original formulation was perhaps a little better. In the absence of Senator Kelleher, I will not oppose the amendment.
Amendment No. 22 is in the name of Senators Kelleher, Ruane, Black, Ó Donnaghaile and Bacik. Is it being pressed? Is Senator Ruane moving the amendment?
I am not.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 31, line 1, after “questions” to insert “and responses”.
Does any Senator wish to speak to the amendment?
Unless another Senator wishes to do so, I will speak to it because Senator Kelleher hoped to speak on it but is not in the Chamber. I have not co-signed the amendment and, therefore, do not feel I can speak to it.
Does Senator Higgins want to speak on it? She does not have to. If she does not, and no other Senator does, I will call on the Minister of State.
I thank the Senators for this amendment. Since 1992 it has been possible to use intermediaries in certain court proceedings to facilitate the questioning of witnesses. This Bill will extend that possibility, subject to the decision of the court, to all child victims. However, the use of intermediaries has not become common practice in the years since the statute was enacted. While there is no established current practice and no community of practitioners with whom to engage in developing best practice, I would be reluctant to expand the use of intermediaries to include not just questions but also the responses of witnesses, particularly as this issue is quite complex, given it seeks to balance the rights of a victim to give evidence and an accused's right to a fair trial.
It is my hope that an extension of the scope for intermediaries in this Bill will spark renewed interest in this service. Once some practice develops, I would be willing to revisit the expansion of the functions of intermediaries in the manner proposed here. I suggest that any such expansion of functions would be best examined in the wider context of the development of best practice guidance for such services.
On a technical note, the amendment seeks to expand the functions of intermediaries with regard to non-relevant offences but has not made a corresponding amendment with regard to relevant offences. These offences are more serious under the existing Criminal Evidence Act and include sexual violence or threatening offences and human trafficking offences. It appears to me to be inappropriate to expand the functions of intermediaries only for those offences where they are least likely to be of value. I hope that helps colleagues.
Amendments Nos. 23 to 33, inclusive, have already been discussed with amendment No. 16.
Amendment No. 34 has already been discussed with amendment No. 15, and is in the name of Senators Victor Boyhan, Colette Kelleher, Lynn Ruane, Frances Black, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Alice-Mary Higgins and Ivana Bacik. Is it being pressed?
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 32, after line 39, to insert the following:
(iii) in paragraph (b), by the insertion of the following subparagraphs after subparagraph (ii):
“(iii) by any person over the age of 18 in any case to which this Part applies, in which that person has made a statement in prerecorded form to An Garda Síochána while under the age of 18, unless the court sees good reason to the contrary; and
(iv) by any person over the age of 18 in any other case to which this Part applies, with the leave of the court.”,”.
I am pleased to introduce this amendment, which would provide for the right of a victim to be accompanied in court by a support worker when the victim is giving evidence during the accused person's application for bail, including in circumstances when the public has been excluded. A victim's right to be accompanied in court by a support worker was added into various other enactments within this Bill in the Dáil. The proposed amendment now adds a similar right in the Bail Act, ensuring a consistency of approach across the Statute Book regarding a victim's right to be accompanied by a parent, relative, friend or support worker in court.
Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 in the name of Senators Victor Boyhan, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Catherine Ardagh and Diarmuid Wilson are out of order due to a potential charge on the Revenue.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 37, after line 32, to insert the following:
“Reporting on training provided
36. Within 60 days after the end of each calendar year those responsible for the training within An Garda Síochána, the Ombudsman Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Irish Prison Service, the Court Service, the Bar of Ireland, the Law Society of Ireland and the Judicial Studies Institute shall publish in written form a report of any general and specialist training which has been provided in accordance with the provisions of this Act and Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA.”.
The rationale for this amendment is that it is vital that full implementation of the training obligations as set out in Article 25 of the EU Directive 2012/29, establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, should be monitored. Accordingly, it supports the Victims' Rights Alliance in its advocacy for the introduction and reporting of obligations and progress following new amendment, adapted from that in the Report amendments listed on 4 July 2017, and put this into effect.
I support Senator Boyhan. Training so that the practice that we have matches the policy is crucial. We have already heard today about how sometimes something in policy seems fine and clear if one reads it but that the experience victims have is that the interpretation and understanding of those who enact that policy is perhaps not what it could be and should be. All of those involved should be trained so they understand, for example, decisions about what might be necessary or appropriate information to share with victims or necessary reasons. They would also understand experiences and choices people might be making with regard to choosing to stay within a process which can, in some cases we were talking about earlier, be traumatising when victims go through a legal and criminal process. Staff understanding that, fully understanding the needs of victims, and what responsibilities they have will be made a reality by practice. I would like if the Minister of State could offer or indicate, on this legislative basis or otherwise, that there will be some report on the training provided to take the laudable overall spirit of this Bill into real effect.
It is an interesting amendment and debate. At present, training has been provided to all State solicitors. Both administrative and legal staff of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have received training. An Garda Síochána and prosecutors nationwide have received training. The Irish Prison Service and the Courts Service have also undergone training to enable greater support for victims of crime. Training has been given to a number of non-governmental organisations involved in assisting victims of crime, for example the Victims of Crime Helpline, the Rape Crisis Centre and Advic. These organisations are to receive further training from the DPP's office following the finalisation of this Bill and we are all anxious that it be enacted as soon as possible. Furthermore, An Garda Síochána has specially trained personnel working in its victim services office in each division and 474 trained family liaison officers working to support victims of crime.
In many ways, this is a new dawn for victims. Detailed information of the training provided by many of these organisations is already published on their websites, for example, by the Garda Síochána, the Garda Ombudsman Commission and the Courts Service. It is clear that training is being provided and information about it is being published by all relevant authorities.
I wish to raise concerns about this specific amendment.
This amendment appears to require certain non-statutory bodies to report on training in accordance with the provisions of this Act and the EU directive. However, there are no provisions in this Act and the provisions of the directive do not require such bodies to provide this training.
Article 25.3 of the directive requires member states to recommend to those responsible for the training of lawyers to make available general and specialist training to increase the awareness of lawyers to the needs of victims. This has already been done. I want to take this opportunity to re-echo that request and recommendation here.
There is no provision in the Bill that requires this training so it is hard to see what training requirement the amendment is based on. Senators may not have been aware that a lot is already happening. I take on board the importance of training. I thank the Senators for the opportunity to highlight the importance of training and of making available on websites what training has taken place. That is already happening and, therefore, there is no need for this amendment. I will not be accepting the amendment.
Again, I am disappointed but not surprised. The Minister of State has not supported any amendment today - not one - yet he tabled 30-odd amendments himself. I repeat again that he had full notice of what would be put before him. Does he see any merit in that? He did not say my amendment had merit unlike the rest of them. That is the way it is but it is hard to believe. I would be very disappointed if I was involved in one of the advocacy groups that had taken the time to engage with people. I take this opportunity to thank the few Members who took the time and trouble to table amendments. I spoke to someone on the telephone when I left earlier for my tea. The person said they came in here and saw politics in action. Those who gave a commitment to do something or attempt to do something did so. In regard to those who undertook to do something but did nothing, the record speaks for itself. The Minister of State's response is disappointing. I will put the amendment to a vote and, again, it is for the record. I am disappointed that the Minister of State has rejected every single amendment tonight.
I share the frustrations of Senators Boyhan and Higgins. I am afraid I got my times wrong and thought we would resume at 7 p.m. There has been so much jiggery-pokery with the schedule. Like Senator Boyhan, I feel that we have let the advocacy organisations down.
I am sure the Senator did not mean anything untoward by what she said. Private Members' time was scheduled to last two hours and as soon as it was finished we were to revert back to the Private Members' Bill.
I appreciate that I got the time wrong.
Perhaps the Senator should reflect on her use of the phrase "jiggery-pokery". The schedule was published, and it was what it was. The debate on the Private Members' Bill only took an hour rather than two hours. I do not think that she would want it on the record of the House a suggestion that something untoward was done. I am sure she has not made such a suggestion.
I am not suggesting anything untoward was done, whatsoever. First, it was decided to take Committee and Report Stages together in order to fit all of the debate in today. Second, changes were made right up to quite late in the day.
The Order of Business was agreed by the House.
I withdraw my words.
I made my comment for the benefit of the Senator and not me.
Fair enough. There is huge frustration in terms of the substance of what we are trying to do, with Senator Boyhan, which was to reflect concerns and issues that have been raised with us by people who work on the front line with people who are victims of crime, particularly issues relating to people who try to make complaints and get justice for sexual crimes. I am disappointed with the whole process. I am disappointed that we have not been really heard and I feel that I have let people down today. I just wanted to put my views on the record. I hope that the Minister of State will reflect on these things and on the sincerity, substance and principles of the amendments, even though maybe not all the technicalities or words were quite right.
My party has tabled a similarly worded amendment that is scheduled to be discussed next. The amendment is very similar to the amendment tabled by Senator Boyhan.
I am a practising solicitor and deal with people who are involved in the courts system. Even outside the criminal justice system, in other areas, the experience can be very stressful. I refer to far lesser court processes. For example, in the civil and family courts it is far more difficult to deal with the criminal justice system. Quite frankly, full training is required for many people across the process and not just the people who have been mentioned. There is no point having training if there is no one to monitor and receive feedback. An amendment, therefore, should be accepted in this regard, whether it is a Fianna Fáil amendment or that of Senator Boyhan.
Maybe I did not explain things properly and I am sorry if I came across a bit indistinct. I am informed that training is provided to all State solicitors, the staff of the DPP, the Garda, prosecutors nationwide, the Irish Prison Service and the Courts Service. That covers most of what is in the amendment. Training is already happening. Not only that, but three of the bodies - the Garda, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Courts Service - have published details, I am told, of their training on their websites. Organisations are already doing this.
One of the problems we have is that non-statutory legal professional bodies have been mentioned in the amendment. I am advised that placing any such requirements on them would not be appropriate without very careful consideration of the issue. The status of these bodies differs from conventional organisations. One body has recently been compared with a private members' club in a High Court decision. For that reason and other stated reasons, I am afraid that I am not in a position to accept the amendment.
I make the following point again. The Senators are right to highlight the importance of training. However, training is already happening, the details have been published and people can see the information. I am not sure if the Senators are aware of that situation. Training is happening and we want more of it to happen. As I said, the Office of the Chief State Solicitor, the Garda, the DPP, the Prison Service, prosecutors and the Court Service have all undergone training in order to provide greater support to victims of crime. Training already exists and is there to be seen. As Senator Clifford-Lee said, training can be examined and monitored. The Senators can look at the information themselves and go through same. The committees of the Houses can invite some of these agencies in to discuss what is available on their websites. Training already exists and I expect that it is of a very high standard. As I said, we want this to move forward.
There is an issue with some of the non-statutory agencies mentioned in the amendment. Do some of them have the structures to provide training? It has already been advised. It has been recommended in the directive that other bodies responsible for the training of lawyers would make available general specialist training to increase the awareness of lawyers to the needs of victims. I agree fully with the Senators but there is no need for the amendment which contains an issue that causes problems.
The Government has accepted many Opposition amendments to this legislation in the Dáil. In fact, so many amendments were accepted in the Dáil that there was nothing left to be changed in a really substantial way. We listened in the Dáil to what people brought forward.
I am anxious, and I know everyone here is as well, to get the legislation on the Statute Book. As with many of the other discussions we have had here today, it should be possible to amend legislation. It is early days for the legislation. It is possible to amend, change and improve the legislation as we go along, under other statutes. Unfortunately, for the reasons that I have outlined, I am not in a position to accept the amendment.
The Minister of State has advisers. We, as Senators, have been asked to do something about this matter by people who are passionate about this subject. It is about time we had people on the record in terms of this democratic process. The reality is the Minister of State has accepted no amendments today, a fact that speaks for itself. There will be more opportunities to debate this legislation. We have colleagues in the other House, so the Minister of State will have to deal with this legislation again. It is important that Ministers are challenged. Senators will have failed their job if we do not question the status quo, the establishment, the Minister of State, his Ministry and his advisers. As he said earlier, he was a member of the Opposition for 15 years and was terribly frustrated by the process.
No, I was not.
I am not frustrated with the process. I am passionate about the process.
I was not frustrated.
Sorry, so he was not even frustrated-----
By golly, it was 15 years. That is grand. Just to say-----
I am going to put the question.
Let us call a vote.
- Ardagh, Catherine.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Daly, Mark.
- Daly, Paul.
- Devine, Máire.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Horkan, Gerry.
- Kelleher, Colette.
- Lawless, Billy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
- Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Conway, Martin.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Mahony, John.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.
Amendment No. 42, in the names of Senators Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Catherine Ardagh and Diarmuid Wilson, has been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on Revenue.
I pay tribute to the Minister of State, his officials and all those Members who took a keen interest in what is exceptionally important legislation. For too long victims of crime have not received the recognition they should receive. While this legislation will not be the panacea for all of the challenges and difficulties victims of crime face, it is certainly a significant incremental step in the right direction. As my party's spokesperson on justice and on behalf of Fine Gael, I pay tribute to everyone involved and thank him or her for his or her co-operation.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials. It has been a good evening. We have had a conversation about and highlighted some genuine issues and the Minister of State acknowledged that he was sympathetic. There is a lot of merit in the legislation, but we need to look at how the democratic process works. The Minister of State has a track record in that regard, but I thank, in particular, all of the people who engaged in the process, those outside politics who wrote to us and lobbied us. They told us harrowing stories and said they wanted change. Senator Colette Kelleher suggested we had let people down, but we have not. Politics is a tough business, but we have done a good day's work. I ask the Minister of State to take on board the sentiments expressed in some of the amendments, even though they have not ended up being inserted into the legislation, but they are, nevertheless, important. I acknowledge the Senators who took the time and trouble to prepare for the debate on the legislation. Some amendments were ruled out of order, sometimes for legitimate reasons, but I thank Senators for engaging in the process and working very hard on their amendments.
As I said earlier, this is groundbreaking legislation which represents a new dawn for victims. It has been about four years in the making and there has been huge engagement on it with various victim support organisations, including the Victims Rights Alliance and others, which I thank for their work. We included a lot of their suggestions in the legislation, although not all. We are anxious to get the legislation into the Statute Book and have listened carefully to the points made. Every piece of legislation requires to be tweaked, improved and updated and what has been said today has been taken on board. We wish the agencies which will operate the legislation well. They are anxious to start work under it as soon as they can. I thank all Senators for their valuable contributions on the Bill and in other areas. When I chaired the committee, we did a lot of work in the relevant area and it is nice to see it being brought to fruition at long last.
I thank Members for their co-operation. We started the debate at 3.30 p.m. and an hour ago had disposed of only 15 of the 43 amendments, but in the past hour we have got through the remaining 28.