Rape crisis centre ‘disappointed’ by lack of provision of legal advice to victims

Rape crisis centre 'disappointed' by lack of provision of legal advice to victims

Noeline Blackwell

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) has said it is disappointed that a wide-ranging new bill on sexual offences and human trafficking will not provide for all alleged victims to receive legal advice from the outset of criminal proceedings.

The charity said it welcomed many provisions of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill 2023, announced last week and published on the Oireachtas website yesterday.

Shirley Scott, DRCC policy manager, said: “The new Miscellaneous Provisions Act will specifically outlaw stalking and non-fatal strangulation, as well as increase the potential length of sentence for assault. This sets an important marker that these forms of abuse constitute serious sexual crimes and will not be tolerated in this country.

“The proposed changes in trials in the draft legislation published today include removing some anomalies about the meaning of consent, strengthening the capacity to identify victims of human trafficking and providing anonymity and some limited extension of legal aid to victims of sexual offences in court.

“These changes should make it somewhat easier for victims of sexual crime to come forward and be supported in accessing justice.”

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of DRCC, said: “The issues addressed in the new legislation and the proposed bill have been identified by victims, by legal and policy experts and by the government in its own national strategy to end domestic, sexual and gender-based violence as barriers to reporting and prosecution of sexual offences.

“These changes are badly needed. We hope that the draft Bill now published will receive speedy attention when the Oireachtas sits again after its summer break as the measures it proposes are crucial to advance victims’ rights to justice.”

However, she added: “While the measures now enacted and proposed are welcome, it is disappointing to see that there is still no provision to ensure that a key party to proceedings, the victim, has access to legal advice from the outset and as they need it during the investigation and trial process.

“This was recognised as a necessary part of supporting victims in their journey through the justice system and its absence denies victims the right to be fully informed and equipped to deal with the system, where they play such a crucial part in their own cases, and on behalf of all society.”

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