Victims' Rights to be discussed at Conference co-hosted by Irish Council for Civil Liberties, The Bar of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland

    Release date: 09/04/2018

    Victims’ Rights to be discussed at Conference co-hosted by Irish Council for Civil Liberties, The Bar of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland

    Implications of Brexit on EU Victims’ Rights Directive to be explored

    Should dogs be allowed in the courtroom to support victims of crime?


    How can our criminal justice system better protect victims of crime? How should cross-examinations be conducted to ensure that victims are not re-victimized in the courtroom? What impact will Brexit have on the implementation of the EU Victims Directive on a cross-border basis? Should courtroom dogs and intermediaries play a role in supporting vulnerable victims and children in the courtroom?  These are just some of the topics that will be discussed at the Victims’ Directive Conference in Dublin on Monday, April 9th, 2018.


    Funded by the Criminal Justice Programme of the EU Commission, this day-long conference is being co-hosted by The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, The Bar of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland to discuss best practice in the implementation of the EU Victims’ Directive. The EU Victims’ Directive was implemented in Ireland on November 27th, 2017 when the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 became law, establishing EU-wide minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.


    Maria McDonald BL, founder of the Victims’ Rights Alliance (VRA) and ICCL’s victims’ rights expert, said: “As of last year, there are minimum legal standards for protecting victims in place, thanks to the EU Victims’ Directive being made law in Ireland. During this conference we will seek to explore and challenge how victims are treated within the criminal justice system and ask how we can best help them to testify in court. For example, there have been cases where requests by children to have an object such as a teddy bear with them in court when giving video-link evidence of sexual abuse have been denied. We can do better than this.”


    Paul McGarry SC, Chairman of the Council of The Bar of Ireland, said; “As barristers, our role is to advocate fearlessly for access to justice on behalf of our clients, but there is an important balance to be struck to ensure that cross examination is conducted in a way that is reasonable and fair to the person in the stand. We welcome the introduction of EU legislation that sets a clear and definable benchmark for victims’ rights, and we look forward to a robust discussion about best practice in its implementation at the Victims Directive Conference.”


    Michael Quinlan, President of the Law Society of Ireland said; ““Victims of crime turn to their solicitor at perhaps the most difficult time in their lives to seek justice and vindicate their rights. The Law Society has long advocated for enhanced rights for victims of crime, particularly vulnerable victims and children. We now wholly support the changes provided for in the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017. This conference provides us with the opportunity to reflect on how we as a profession can ensure that those legislative safeguards are fully implemented to protect victims of crime.”


    Liam Herrick, Executive Director, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, said: “Our shared aim is to protect and respect the rights of every actor in the criminal justice system. A key message is that there are many practical ways in which the position of the victim in the trial process can be strengthened without diminishing the principle of due process and the rights of the suspect or accused person.  Having recently made the very welcome move to implement the EU Victims’ Rights Directive into Irish law, we now have an opportunity to learn from other jurisdictions how we can support victims, and especially vulnerable victims, through the stressful experience of a trial.”


    A representative from the Seattle-based organisation, Courthouse Dogs Foundation, will speak about the impact that specially trained court dogs can have in helping particularly vulnerable victims, such as child victims of sexual abuse, to testify in court.  Ellen O'Neill-Stephens. Founder of the Courthouse Dogs Foundation said: “A trial is a fact-finding process and specially-trained dogs can act as a communication aid for witnesses. This is because of the calming presence of the dog; a less anxious person is better able to communicate. An additional bonus of having the dog present in the courtroom is that many judges tell us that the attorneys are also better behaved when the dog is there!”


    Other speakers at the Conference will include Judith Thompson, Commissioner for Victims and Survivors in Northern Ireland and Margaret Tuite, EU Commission Co-ordinator for the Rights of the Child.