In terms of victims’ rights there are a number of changes introduced by the Parole Act 2019, which came into force on 30 July 2021. These changes enhance victims’ rights and help ensure that a victim’s views are considered by the Parole Board whenever an application for parole (early release subject to conditions) is made by a prisoner.
The new Act transfers the power to make decisions on parole from the Minister for Justice to the new independent Parole Board, a group of experienced professionals with expertise in various aspects of the criminal justice system. The Board was established on 31 July 2021 and includes one member who is CEO of Victim Support at Court, and others with extensive knowledge of victims’ rights and victim services.
For the present, the only prisoners who can benefit from parole are those sentenced to life imprisonment who have already been in prison for at least 12 years.
Although submissions from victims cannot be considered by the Board before the relevant prisoner makes an application for parole, this Act includes some extended rights for victims to have their views on parole considered once an application for parole has been made.
In most cases, a victim is easily identified – but one change that has been made by the Parole Act is in the case of homicide. In such cases, the definition of “victim” now includes family members of the deceased, and a family member can include anyone who was dependent on the deceased. It can also include anyone with a connection “sufficiently close” to the deceased that s/he should be considered a family member. It is important to note that the definition of family member does not include any relative of the deceased victim who is under investigation for, or is charged with, an offence related to the death of that victim.
The Parole Board is currently trying to build up a database of contact details of victims in whose case the convicted perpetrator has become eligible for parole, or will do so in the near future, so that they can contact victims directly once a relevant prisoner makes their application for parole.
If you are a victim who wishes to be contacted by the Parole Board and asked for your views once the relevant prisoner makes an application for parole, you should contact the Victim Liaison Office (VLO) of the Irish Prison Service and give permission to the VLO to pass on your contact details to the Parole Board. Victims who are already registered with the VLO will be contacted and asked for permission for their details to be passed on the Parole Board so that they can be contacted by the Board directly and asked to give their views.
Victims may give their views either in writing or in person, or through their legal representative, and these views must be taken into account in the Parole Board’s decision on parole for the relevant prisoner. Any victim who does not indicate that they will find their own legal representative to assist them in making submissions to the Board will be assigned one by the Board.
Victims should be aware that the Parole Board will disclose any written submission from a victim to the relevant prisoner. The victim will be sent a copy of any parole order granted, including any conditions relevant to the victim if the Board considers it appropriate to do so.
The Parole Board’s own website will be launched in the new few weeks.
Legal Director, RCNI
- The text of the Parole Act 2019 as enacted may be found here.
- The consolidated text of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 may be found here.
- All contact details and links to information about procedures operated by the Victim Liaison Office of the Irish Prison Service, may be accessed here.