Oireachtas Justice Committee Hears Submissions on Provision of Independent Legal Representation for Victims of Sexual Offences

On March 24th the Oireachtas Justice Committee began hearing evidence on the issues surrounding the giving of testimony by victims of rape and sexual assault. As well as receiving numerous submissions the committee will hear oral evidence from the Department of Justice, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Men’s Aid, One in Four and the Bar of Ireland.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) published the submission it made to the committee. The DRCC are of the opinion that sexual abuse victims should have the benefit of independent legal representation for the entire criminal trial and not just for the questions

Oireachtas Justice Committee Hears Submissions on Provision of Independent Legal Representation for Victims of Sexual Offences_Coleman Legal

in relation to their previous sexual history. This position was previously rejected by a report published by the Department of Justice, in August 2020, titled “Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences”. The review was led by Mr Tom O’ Malley SC. The report did however endorse improved access to legal advice and representation in particular circumstances. The report also recognised that the term “vulnerable witness”, which usually refers to a person that is vulnerable due to disability or age, could refer to people who may be vulnerable in the context of sexual offence trial, that the trial itself could make someone vulnerable.

The DRCC in their submission have expressed the opinion that the O’ Malley report underestimated the experience and rights of victims. They advocate for a victim-centred approach, which recognises the varying capacity of victims to process their trauma, to be taken when the criminal justice system processes rape or sexual assault cases. This means “treating victims with care, respect and recognising the particular difficulties and needs facing those who have experienced this unique crime and the social stigma surrounding it”.

In respect of legal support for victims the DRCC submitted that when sexual abuse victims are giving evidence, unlike other victims, their reputation is at stake. The victims evidence is the main evidence in the trial, and they are open to vigorous cross-examination by the accused’s legal team, “The victim, without legal representation, without legal preparation for the evidence they will give is therefore uniquely disadvantaged in such a case.”. In their submission to the committee the DRCC are asking that at the least victims be given access to “timely legal advice… which is not contingent upon a prosecution being instigated.”  The DRCC also pointed to advancements in legislation at both national and EU level which will impact the rights of victims such as the EU Directive on Victims’ Rights and the Victims of Crime Act 2017.

The chairperson of the Committee James Lawless BL has said there is recognition that victims of sexual assault can find giving evidence very traumatic and the process can exacerbate their suffering. He further stated “Members look forward to discussing these sensitive matters with the stakeholders and hearing their experiences of how victims’ testimony in rape and sexual assault cases operate in the Irish courts system”

How can we help?

Coleman Legal is taking High Court actions on behalf of victims of sexual abuse cases. Coleman Legal specialise in the area of sexual abuse law, acting on behalf of the survivors. 

Coleman Legal fully understands and appreciates that any form of abuse is extremely distressing. We deal with each case on a personal, one-to-one basis with compassion, empathy and understanding. Cases of this nature are civil actions which seek monetary compensation for the pain and suffering inflicted upon the complainants as a result of the abuse.

Our dedicated team has extensive experience with claims relating to Sexual Abuse and Harassment. If you have experienced sexual abuse or have been abused in a similar circumstances, please contact Philip Treacy either by email or freephone us on 1800 844 104.

Philip Treacy

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PTreacy@colemanlegal.ie

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