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Shatter committed to enshrining rights of crime victims in law

Resource type: News

The Irish Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter TD faced calls to be a “true champion” for victims’ rights at a high-level conference hosted by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, an Atlantic grantee under our Reconciliation & Human Rights programme in the Republic of Ireland.

CAROL COULTER, Legal Affairs Editor

THE RIGHTS of crime victims will be a priority under Ireland’s EU presidency in 2013, if proposals on the issue from Brussels are not adopted by the end of the year, the Minister for Justice said yesterday.

Alan Shatter was speaking at a conference on the EU Directive on Victims’ Rights organised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties in Dublin yesterday.

The EU published its proposals for a directive on rights, support and protection of victims of crime in May 2011. This followed a framework decision in 2001 of objectives in relation to victims’ rights.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, member states must opt in if they wish to be covered by laws in the area of “freedom, security and justice” and Mr Shatter said the Government had agreed to opt in.

Ireland could then participate in the subsequent negotiations on the draft directive, he said.

Measures in the draft directive include giving information to victims about their case and the criminal justice system, expenses relating to court proceedings, return of property retained as evidence, the right to a decision on compensation from the offender, protection against threats from the offender and access to victim-support services.

Mr Shatter said the directive dealt specifically with vulnerable victims. The original proposal for a directive had a three-pronged definition of vulnerable, based on the characteristics of the victim, the nature of the crime and the possibility of individual assessment of victims. Children and the victims of trafficking would always be defined as vulnerable.

When the draft went to the parliament there were numerous amendments, multiplying the categories of vulnerable victims, Mr Shatter said. “There is a likely negative impact operationally if a long list of vulnerable groups is adopted in a binding legal text.”

Ireland would work towards a practical solution that can command consensus, but avoid a forensic inquisition of the victim that could further distress them.

Prof Anthony Pemberton of the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands told the conference that the 2001 framework decision, which was intended to harmonise victims’ rights across the EU, actually widened the gap between different member states.

This arose from various differences, including those in criminal justice systems, in the role of victims in the civil law and adversarial systems, different profiles of victims, differences in the auxiliary support services across the EU and varying attitudes towards law-enforcement officials, especially in the east European states.

“Where the decision was transposed the practice was poor,” said Prof Pemberton. “Most of the progress was made where victims’ rights were already embedded. So the gap widened.”

The effectiveness of the proposed new directive would depend on efforts after its adoption and would rely heavily on victims’ champions in member states.

“The transposition into domestic law is important, but only the first step,” he said.