RCNI call for all party support to protect child victims of sexual violence from unnecessary and potentially devastating harm in our courts.
As a long time advocate of victims’ rights, RCNI calls on Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, TD, to include the proposed amendment to the Courts Bill proposed by Senator Van Turnhout, before the Seanad today (Weds 26th June 2013) which will give our judges urgently needed powers to regulate the disclosure of counselling notes relating to child victims.
Fiona Neary RCNI Director said, ‘The Van Turnhout amendment is both essential and urgent in the interest of justice and the protection of the child witness in a criminal case of child sexual violence.
‘Devastating and unacceptable choices are being forced on parents of children in cases of sexual violence by an accidental gap in our law which exposes vulnerable children to potential trauma in our court rooms.
‘Parents are currently faced with the frightening possibility that to seek justice and the protection of other children requires making their child’s intimate counselling notes available for the court case, perhaps to devastating effect in undermining their child. This decision to expose the child is currently without any formal control or oversight by a judge. This is entirely unacceptable. It must be the case that only a judge makes this decision. It is unnecessary to put children and their parents through this further trauma.
‘Minister Alan Shatter now has an opportunity, through the amendment to the Courts Bill, proposed in the Seanad today (Weds 26th 2013) by Senator Jillian Van Turnhout, to fix this distressing and unjust situation for the children who have experienced sexual violence and their families.’
Caroline Counihan, RCNI Legal Director said, ‘It is the RCNI contention that the decision on the admissibility of the child’s counselling notes in a particular case should only be made by a judge to a set of standards defined by law. This amendment means that a judge may decide the counselling notes are of no probative value, that other evidence could prove a contested fact, that the public interest in disclosure does not outweigh the potential harm to the complainant and therefore they are not to be given to the accused and/or the defence legal team. This amendment is to ensure that the counselling notes of child sexual victims who give evidence as children would only become part of the trial if the judge makes a decision on their admissibility. It is our strong belief that justice should do all that it can to protect the child victim from unnecessary potential harm in the pursuit of justice.
‘The existing gap in our law can result in grave injustice and additional trauma to survivors. This amendment will close this gap in our legislation as far as child victims of sexual crime are concerned. This legislative change will help ensure that there is public confidence that the State will do its utmost to vindicate victims of crimes of sexual violence.
‘RCNI have been working with survivors, services, Government agencies and legislators, including Senator Van Turnhout, on this question for an extended period of time. RCNI have also been looking at legislative provisions from other jurisdictions, such as New South Wales, as possible models which could be adapted to suit our criminal justice system. We have been pooling our experience and the experiences of clients and the parents of child clients across the country over a number of years. We very much welcome this timely amendment as a first and urgent step in addressing this gap in our law.’
Fiona Neary concluded, ‘We commend Senator Jillian Van Turnhout for proposing this clause in the latest Courts Bill and call on all Deputies and all Parties of the Oireachtas to commit to ensuring its swift passage to enactment. Further, RCNI calls on Minister Shatter to introduce new legislation to ensure that our judges have the power to regulate disclosure of all victims’ intimate personal records, as a matter of urgency.’