Section 14 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act, 2017 sets out the general provisions governing the protection of victims during interviews and this includes provision for the carrying out of interviews with victims as soon as possible and only where necessary.
Section 15 of the Act makes provision for the assessment of victims and the implementation of protection and special measures identified by the assessment. Under section 15 (2) of the Act, in carrying out such assessments, a member of An Garda Síochána or an officer of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission as the case may be, shall have regard to a wide range of matters including if the victim has a disability. In this regard each victim is individually assessed to establish any particular protection needs he or she may have and if they would benefit from any special measures during the course of the criminal proceedings. This assessment takes into account the nature and circumstances of the crime but the focus is on the personal needs of the victim.
Specifically with regard to interviews, under section 17 of the Act, special measures available during an investigation for victims of crime, including for victims who have a disability, may include the following measures;
(i) carrying out such interviews in specially adapted premises and by persons trained for that purpose
(ii) where there is more than one interview, for interviews to be carried out, where possible, by the same member or members of the Garda Síochána or the same officer or officers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, as the case may be; and
(iii) where the alleged offence involves sexual violence, gender-based violence or violence in a close relationship, that the victim be informed of his or her right to request that interviews are carried out by a person of the same sex as themselves.
In applying these provisions the Garda authorities have advised me that since the introduction of Section 16(1) (b) of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, An Garda Síochána has operated the practice of recording the evidence-in-chief of children and persons with a mental disability on DVD and that this is now an established Garda practice.
The Garda authorities also advise that records held at the Garda National Protective Services Bureau show that 114 members of An Garda Síochána and 19 Tusla staff are currently operating as such specialist interviewers. These interviewers undergo an intensive 4-week training course at the Garda Síochána College, Templemore, Co Tipperary. There are nine specialist interview suites throughout the country, all of which are designed to be accessible to people with disabilities.
Prior to an interview taking place, the specialist interviewer will meet with the victim (and their guardian where applicable) and explain the interview process to them. In the course of this meeting the interviewer carries out an assessment of the victim’s ability to provide evidence. This assessment is separate from, and additional to, the assessment carried out of all victims under section 15 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act, 2017. Since the enactment of this legislation the specialist interview constitutes a special measure as provided for under section 17 of that Act.
In addition, as a further support to victims of crime with a disability, An Garda Síochána’s "Short Guide to Cultural and Diversity Awareness" contains advice for Garda members on dealing with everyday practical policing issues including assisting or communicating with a person with a particular physical disability.
Further to this and as impairments are not always obvious, many people may not identify as having a disability. For that reason the Garda Síochána Victim Information Leaflet which is provided to victims of crime in accordance with section 7 of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, invites victims to let members of An Garda Síochána know if there is any particular need or support the victim considers necessary to assist in providing a professional policing service to them.
In addition to this information provided to me by the Garda authorities, I have also been advised by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) that in accordance with the Victims of Crime Act, 2017, the protection needs of all victims of crime who come under their remit are assessed.
As part of this process, the personal characteristics of the victim including any disability and other factors, are taken into account for the purpose of ascertaining whether a victim might benefit from protection and/or special measures. With regard to interviews, I am further advised by GSOC that it currently has four members of staff who are specially trained in interviewing but that plans are in place to significantly increase this number.