Announcing the CCHJR 4th Annual Criminal Law Conference

Accommodating Victims in the Criminal Justice System:
An Inclusionary or Punitive Logic?

Friday, 11th June, University College Cork

The Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Right at the Faculty of Law at UCC is delighted to host its fourth annual criminal law conference, entitled Accommodating Victims in the Criminal Justice System. The aim of the conference is to update delegates on current debates in criminal justice with particular emphasis on the role of victims of crime. For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the victim in the criminal process was confined largely to a bit-part role of reporting crime and of adducing evidence in court as a witness, if needed. More recently, however, the process is gradually becoming more effective in accommodating the needs and concerns of victims of crime. In the last three decades, in particular, the status of the crime victim has gradually altered from being perceived as a ‘non-entity’ or ‘hidden casualty’ to a stakeholder whose interests and opinions matter. Crime victims are beginning to be anchored as key constituents in the criminal justice landscape and criminal justice agencies will have to rework their relationships with them.

Notwithstanding the increased recognition of victims in the criminal process, some commentators would argue that that many of the needs of victims continue to be unmet. A lack of knowledge among criminal justice agencies about the needs of victims of crime is a key issue. There also remains a problem with the under-reporting of crime. Other issues that cause concern to victims include harassment, intimidation by the process, attrition rates, the lack of private areas in courts, difficulties with procedural rules and legal definitions, delays in the system, and inadequate support services. Other commentators would argue that this shift in the status of the victim will contribute to a reprioritisation of commitments resulting in a recalibration of the scales of justice that further hollow out the rights of those accused of crime. This conference will explore all of these issues with leading experts in the field.

It is anticipated that the conference will act as a forum where legal practitioners, victims’ rights advocacy/support groups, Garda officers, social workers, probation officers, civil servants, judges and academics, can discuss issues of common interest.

For information relating to the conference, please telephone the conference administrator, Ms Noreen Delea, at 021 4902728, or email her at

Justice for Victims initiative poses a challenge to the law on double jeopardy

The Minister for Justice announced yesterday a ‘major new’ Justice for Victims initiative. The announcement caused a furore in the Dáil because the press conference clashed with a scheduled debate on the renewal of the Offences against the State Act. Fine Gael claimed that the Minister was trying to ‘dodge’ the debate and was setting out a victims initiative at the same time as planning to reject its proposed legislation on victims due for debate next week. The timing of the announcement was clearly inadvisable and the opposition repeatedly accused the Minister of “arrogance” and “contempt for the house”.

The initiative, however, raises some fundamental concerns regarding the substance of the measures. The Minister announced that there would be legislation introduced in 2009 which would:
Reform the victim impact statement mechanism in order to give victim status to next of kin in homicide cases.
Introduce new mechanisms to deal with an acquittal where compelling evidence of guilt emerges after the acquittal
Allow cases to be re-opened where an acquittal arises from an error in law by a Judge.
Provide for new prosecutions where there is evidence that the original acquittal was tainted by interference with the trial process.
Introduce measures to restrict unjustified and vexatious imputations at trial against the character of a deceased or incapacitated victim or witness.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties immediately responded to the initiative stating that victims rights would be not be strengthened by removing the rights of the accused, noting that it recently proposed a Charter of Rights for the Victims of Crime, based on human rights principles.

The government’s provisions relating to the re-opening of cases could undermine the fundamental principle of double jeopardy preventing a person being tried for the same crime twice. The double jeopardy principle is meant to ensure that prosecution is not used by government to harass or oppress people and ensure finality in the criminal justice process. It is enshrined in many human rights documents including the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 14(7)) and the Seventh Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights which states

“No one shall be liable for be tried or punished again in criminal proceedings under the jurisdiction of the same State for an offence for which he has already been finally acquitted or convicted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of that State.”

This provision may cause problems for the government’s proposals as Ireland has ratified the protocol and will at the very least need to be taken into account in the drafting of the provisions.