Photo by Lois Kapila

Have you ever been the victim of a crime? Did you go to the Gardaí? And did you feel you were treated appropriately?

A public attitudes survey by An Garda Síochána in 2017 found that 16 percent of victims of crime had not reported the crime. Of those who did report, only 58 percent were satisfied with the service.

Last Wednesday in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that An Garda Síochána is improving its specialist services to respond better to the needs of victims. This is welcome but long overdue – and, actually, already a legal obligation.

New legislation came into force in Ireland in 2017, two years after an EU directive on victims of crime required it. Incredibly, 15 percent of EU citizens fall victim to crime every year and the EU wanted to ensure they received equal treatment no matter what EU state the crime occurred in.

The EU directive was groundbreaking. It recognised that crime leaves victims feeling vulnerable and in need of particular assistance. It follows a trend towards better protection of victims’ rights in international human-rights law, including the provision of legal representation for victims at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Since the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act became law in 2017, if you report a crime to An Garda Síochána, they have to assess whether you might need particular protection and they must provide regular updates to you on their investigations.

As a victim of a crime, you must be placed at the centre of investigations and you must never be discriminated against no matter where you are from and no matter what your legal status. Importantly, families of victims who have died as a result of crime must also be supported.

The Victims of Crime Act says you have rights to information and translation, as well as to regular updates on your case, and protection and support where necessary. It also requires that you are supported and treated fairly and with respect and dignity by police, lawyers and judges as you search for justice, or seek compensation.

If you are a victim of a crime now, you must be provided with specific information on how to report a crime, what support services are available, how to claim compensation and what to expect throughout your interaction with the criminal justice system. You are entitled to support even if you don’t report the crime.

You have a right to be accompanied when reporting the crime and you have a right to request to be kept informed of significant developments in a criminal investigation. If gardaí stop an investigation or if there is no prosecution, you can ask for a summary of reasons and for a reconsideration of the decision not to prosecute. You can also request special assistance, including if you have to undergo questioning by lawyers representing the accused in court.

An Garda Síochána say they have taken a number of positive steps towards upholding victims’ rights since the act came into force. The establishment of six new units, making a total of 10, in the Garda National Protective Services Bureau – which leads investigation in complex cases involving sexual crimes, child-protection issues, human trafficking or domestic abuse – and the Garda Victim Liaison Office, which liaises with voluntary victim support organisations, are some of these.

Family liaison officers are appointed to victims of crime and their families in very serious cases such as murder or false imprisonment. Twenty-eight victim service offices and divisional protective services units have been established to target particular types of offending.

Training new Garda recruits to, which, as the directive demands, “enable[s] them to deal with victims in an impartial, respectful and professional manner”, has improved – though there should be training on victims’ rights across the force and not just for new recruits.

But, according to victims’ support organisations, the Gardaí still have a lot of work to do to properly fulfil all of their new obligations to victims of crime.

And even though the Victims of Crime Act represents progress, there are still gaps in Irish law. For example, the act only applies to investigations which are conducted by the Gardaí or the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

That means that if you are the victim of a crime where the investigation is lead by other bodies, such as Tusla or the HSE, you do not hold the rights outlined above. This is a very serious gap, particularly considering the vulnerability of people accessing services provided by these bodies.

ICCL, along with the Victims’ Rights Alliance, has been calling for a Victims’ Rights Ombudsman, who can oversee complaints by victims where their rights are not upheld. But this has not yet been introduced.

Currently, if you feel Gardaí have not taken your complaint seriously you can complain to GSOC.

Doireann Ansbro is the senior research and policy officer with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. She studied English and history at Trinity College Dublin and law at Nottingham Law School. She has...

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