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Heads of Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill published

14th July 2015

IPRT welcomes the implementation of the EU Victims’ Rights Directive, which must take place by 16th November 2015, as a positive change to the Irish law as it currently stands. IPRT echoes the findings of the Strategic Review on Penal Policy (2014) that:

“recognising  the  harm  and  distress  caused  to  victims  of  crime  is  a  central function  of  the  criminal  justice  and  penal  systems. The need for victims and their families to be heard and their rights protected must be supported and strengthened.”

IPRT does not view the Victims’ Rights Directive as incompatible with prisoners’ rights. We believe that the rights of everyone in the criminal justice system can be respected and vindicated under the proposed Directive.

Current situation

At present, victims’ rights in Ireland are governed by the Victims Charter, which is not legally binding and provides no legal entitlements or rights to victims. The Victims’ Rights Directive 2012/29/EU is a legally binding Directive, which establishes the minimum standards on rights, support and protection to which victims of crime in EU member states are entitled. This is welcome, and long overdue. Nevertheless, IPRT is concerned that proposals for implementation which extend beyond those enshrined in the Directive must be adequately assessed to ensure that they do not amount to potential human rights breaches.

Provision of Information

A key area that demands a proportionate approach is the provision of information to victims about offenders, both before and after release from prison. The domestic legislation necessary to give effect to these aspects of the EU Directive must consider both public safety and Ireland’s human rights obligations. To this end, the legislation must give due regard to: the relevance of the information; the necessity of disclosing it in the particular circumstances; and the proportionality of any disclosure.

The directive provides that:

  • Victims shall be offered the opportunity to be notified in the event of the offender’s release or escape from detention, and such notification should occur with no unnecessary delay. (Article 6(5))
  • Victims shall be informed of any relevant measures issued for their protection in case of release or escape of the offender. (Article 6(5))
  • On request, victims can receive the information outlined in paragraph 5, at least in cases where there is an identified risk or a danger to them from the offender. (Article 6(6))

The preamble of the Directive emphasises that:

  •  This provision of information shall not apply in instances where minor offences were committed, and where the potential risk of harm to the victim is minimal. (para. 32)
  • Member States will not be obliged to provide information, where the disclosure of that information could harm an offender or the offender’s family.
  • The rights as set out in the Directive are intended to be without prejudice to the rights of the offender. (para. 12)

IPRT is satisfied that the Directive strikes the appropriate balance between creating new rights for victims, while also protecting the rights of offenders.

The Guidance Document on the transposition and implementation of Directive 2012/29/EU further sets out that the provision of information to victims should be based upon a ‘relevance test’ and ‘needs-based evaluation’ carried out by the relevant authorities to determine what (if any) information the victim should receive. The Guidance Document makes it clear that when providing information to victims there must be ongoing compliance with data protection rules.

IPRT cautions that any extension to the rights of victims to information beyond those set out in the Directive must not amount to a breach of rights to privacy, as recognised by the Irish Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

IPRT will publish a new Briefing on implementation of the EU Victims' Rights Directive, along with an initial response to the Heads of Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2015, shortly.

For more information, contact Fíona on 087-1812990

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