How can I be involved in the trial?
The prosecution lawyer will answer your questions about the trial process but will not discuss the case or your evidence with you. If you would like to familiarise yourself with the court in advance of your appearance, you can ask the Court Service to arrange a visit for you. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has produced an information booklet Attending Court as a Witness. The Court Service of Ireland has produced a guide for young witnesses Going to court available as a booklet and DVD.
You may be called as a witness to give evidence in court. In this case, you will receive a witness summons from An Garda Síochána, which will tell you the time, date and place of the court hearing. If called as a witness, you need to attend.
Generally, you can be present at the trial proceedings. Sometimes, particularly in cases involving serious offences, if you are a witness you may be precluded from attending the court hearing until called to give evidence. If you are not appearing as a witness, you may still be able to attend the court hearing unless it is held in private for a particular reason. In general, justice in Ireland is administered in public but there are some exceptions. For example, all family law matters are held in private. If you are the victim of rape, you have the right to be accompanied to court by a supporter.
When sentencing the offender, the court may take into account the impact of the crime on you. The judge may ask for a victim impact report to be prepared. This is a statement outlining the affect that the crime has had on your life. If you have been a victim of a violent or sexual offence or any offence under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, the court must take into account the impact of the crime on you. In addition in such cases, you have the right, upon application, to present a victim impact statement to the court on the impact of the crime. This takes places after the offender has been found guilty.
The judge may ask the Probation Service to prepare a victim impact report to assist with determining the most appropriate sentence for the offender. The Probation Service will also take your needs into account when preparing a pre-sentence report on the offender and in making recommendations for sentencing options.
An Garda Síochána will inform you about your entitlement to court expenses and will keep you informed of the final outcome of the trial.
What are my rights as a witness?
If you have been called as a witness you have to give testimony at trial. In limited circumstances, it is possible to refuse to testify:
- If you are the spouse of the offender, you cannot be compelled to give evidence for the prosecution except in the following cases:
- The offence in question is of violence or the threat of violence to you, your child or the accused’s child, or a person under 17 (includes an adopted child)
- The offence is a sexual offence in relation to your child, the accused’s child or a person under 17 (includes an adopted child)
- The offence consists of attempting or conspiring to commit or of aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring or inciting commission of either of the above two offences
- If you are co-offender of the crime
- The above exemptions also apply to former spouses in respect of offences that occurred during the marriage.
- If you are a member of diplomatic staff.
As a witness, you may also be cross-examined (cross-examination means when the defence can ask you questions about your statement and evidence) by the defence. The representative of the prosecution (or a senior police officer in less serious cases) will present the evidence and examine you, while the defence may cross-examine you. A statement, under oath in court, is usually known as “sworn evidence”. It is not read back to a witness, but examination or cross-examination may ensue from that sworn evidence.
All trials must take place in public (except in certain circumstances such as family law matters) and you as a witness will give evidence in open court and cannot remain anonymous. If you are the victim of rape or certain sexual offences however, the public will be excluded from your court hearing and your anonymity will be protected. The public is excluded from incest hearings and your anonymity will be protected.
If you are called to give evidence at the trial the Courts Service of Ireland can provide support and information (but not legal advice) to you
I am a minor. Do I have additional rights?
If you are under 14 years old or you have an intellectual disability, you will not be required to swear an oath before giving your evidence at trial.
If you are under 18, you may be permitted to give evidence via video link or you may also be allowed to give evidence through an intermediary.
Can I receive legal aid?
Victims are not usually permitted separate legal representation with one exception outlined in the next paragraph.
Separate legal representation is available to you if you are a complainant in the prosecution of a person for rape and the defence wants to introduce evidence relating to your prior sexual history. Under this provision, you will not have to make a financial contribution to the cost. In this case the Legal Aid Board will provide a lawyer to represent you free of charge. You may at any stage consult your own lawyer, known as a solicitor, at your own expense. Contact details for solicitors may be obtained from the Law Society.
There are a number of voluntary agencies, which provide court accompaniment and other victim support services, usually free of charge.
How can I get protection, if I am in danger?
It is open to the court to direct that the accused stay away from the victim or stay away from a certain place. A member of An Garda Síochána can assist you in this regard.
Also, the Witness Protection Programme protects witnesses who may be in danger.
In situations of domestic violence, refuge may be available from certain voluntary organisation (see https://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Cosc)
How can I claim damages from the offender or receive compensation from the State?
You can claim damages from the offender if you are a victim of crime or a dependant of a victim of crime who has died as a result of the crime.
The court can order the offender to pay compensation in respect of any personal injury or loss resulting from the offence (or any other offence that is taken into consideration by the court in determining sentence) to you if you have suffered such injury or loss. For example, this is quite common with regard to property damage. A compensation order is made only after the offender is convicted and it is treated as a sentence or a condition of a sentence.
The judge decides whether a compensation order will be made and for how much. You will not be consulted regarding the amount. The offender’s means are taken into account when determining the amount. There is no upper ceiling set on the amount that can be awarded under a compensation order in the High Court. However, the maximum amount that can be awarded is €6,348.69 in the District Court and €38,092.14 in the Circuit Court.. The amount cannot exceed what you would receive in a civil action. The Probation Service may be asked to oversee payment.
If you are a victim of a violent crime (or a dependant of a victim), if you were injured as a result of trying to prevent the commission of a crime, prevent the escape of someone in custody, save a life, or assist a police officer, you might be also entitled to compensation from the State and may apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal administrating the Scheme of Compensation for Personal Injuries Criminally Inflicted. Please consult the factsheet on compensation to victims of crime in Ireland (available in English and other languages) on the European Judicial Network website.
Are there opportunities to reach settlement/conciliation or to start mediation between the offender and myself?
Generally, there is no such provision in Irish law. However, if the crime you are a victim of is committed by a first-time offender who is under the age of 18 and the offender accepts responsibility for the offence, there are two alternative processes to the criminal justice system in which you can take part and are given an active role in a dispute:
- An Garda Síochána can administer a process to caution the child rather than take him or her to court. The child may be placed under the supervision of a Juvenile Liaison Officer for a period of time. You may be invited to be present during a formal caution and your views will be taken into account.
- Another process known as the Family Mediation Conference brings you and the young person together in a safe environment via a trained facilitator. Its purpose is to enable the young person to repair the harm caused by their offence. The procedure can be attended by you, the young person, your and his/her supporters (community representatives, family members, friends or relatives nominated by you or young person, and members of the community). If you would prefer not to attend, the facilitator can represent your views during the conference. During this process, an action plan for reparation will be agreed which may include an apology to you, financial or other reparation to you, or initiatives within the child’s family and community that might help to prevent re-offending. The court directs that this take place, often on the recommendation of the Probation Service. If the offender fulfils the conditions of the programme, the case may be closed.
For adult offenders who have accepted responsibility for the offence, the Probation Service may organise a meeting whose purpose is to enable the offender to repair the harm caused by their offence, but only in appropriate cases. There are at present two pilot mediation services in Nenagh, County Tipperary and Tallaght, County Dublin. It is envisaged that these will be extended to other areas in due course. You can attend with your supporter, the offender and his/her supporter, and members of the community. During the proceedings, an action plan for reparation will be agreed. The action plan may include an apology to you, financial or other reparation to you, or initiatives within the community that might help to prevent re-offending. The court directs that this take place, often on the recommendation of the Probation Services. If the judge is satisfied that the offender has fulfilled the conditions of the programme, the case may be closed.
I am a foreigner. How are my rights and interests protected?
If you are a foreigner and you have suffered from a crime in Ireland you have all the rights described above.
If you are a witness who is living abroad you may have the right to give evidence via video link or telephone link.
- Criminal Justice Act 1993 – in English
- Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 – in English
- Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) – in English
- Criminal Law (Rape) Act, 1981 – in English
- The Criminal Law (Incest Proceedings) Act, 1995 – in English
- Children Act, 1997 – in English
- Criminal Evidence Act, 1992 – in English
- Criminal Justice Act, 1999 – in English
- Sex Offenders Act, 2001 – in English
- Probation of Offenders Act, 1907 – in English
- Criminal Damage Act, 1991 – in English
- Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act, 2008- in English
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