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New legislation will ensure victims of sexual abuse will not be re-traumatised during court experience – Doherty

9th February 2022 - Regina Doherty

Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty today is launching a piece of legislation with the purpose being to increase and improve the information available to the court when a convicted sex offender is before the court for sentencing. This in turn will better ensure that the victim will not be re-traumatised by the court experience.

The current practice whereby character references can present unvouched evidence will be replaced by a system whereby such evidence offered in the mitigation of a sexual or violent crime will be under oath and can be questioned by prosecutors who will get an opportunity to respond

Senator Doherty, Leader of the Seanad, said, “We currently have a criminal justice system that is a cold place for women when it comes to sexual and violent crimes. Character references are brought in mitigation of the crime before sentencing in an attempt to reduce sentence.

“I am told by members of the legal profession that judges tend not to give much weight to courtroom character references, but under our current system such references, unchallenged, re-traumatise victims of violent sexual crimes.

“With this legislation, I am hoping to ensure that if you want to bring your character reference, whether from the local politician, Bishop, or GAA chairman, to court, first of all, it will have to be made under oath, and secondly the prosecution will be able to cross-examine to ensure the veracity of that character reference.

“We’re not taking away anybody’s rights, what we’re trying to effectively do is to make the criminal justice system more victim-cantered.

“I asked my colleagues on the Government benches in Seanad Éireann to work alongside me and co-sponsor this Bill as uniquely we are three women leaders of the three Government parties in Seanad Éireann and we want to send a clear and strong message to female victims that we recognise the issues in the criminal justice system and want to help address them.

“We have worked very closely with Noeleen Blackwell of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.  Victim support groups have been calling for this new law for many years, so I want to thank her for all her support.

“We also welcome the absolute commitment of our Justice Minister, Helen McEntee to make the criminal justice system fairer for women especially through her ‘Supporting A Victims Journey’ plan which was launched in 2020, and which contains 52 actions to improve and reform the operation of the criminal justice system for victims. We look forward to her cooperation in passing this legislation as soon as possible,” concluded Senator Doherty.

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