Irish Bar stands up for victims in criminal trials

OFFICIALS at the Bar Council of Ireland have joined forces with Victim Support to introduce proposals ensuring that victims of crime are treated more sensitively during criminal trials.

Representatives of the Bar Council and Irish branch of the victim's lobby group are due to meet on Tuesday this week to discuss plans for what the Bar Council has termed a “court users' forum”.

The proposals being put forward are likely to include allocation of special seats for complainants away from the accused, and advising complainants when an appeal is lodged by the defendant, together with information on the progress of any such appeal.

Separate representation for complainants is also to be discussed.

The plans have been welcomed by the chair of the Bar Council of Ireland, James Nugent, and form part of a package of what he describes as “plans for radical reform” of the criminal court system in Ireland.

The package received the endorsement of members of the Bar Council of Ireland at an extraordinary general meeting called at the end of January.

It comes at a time when, in the UK as well as in Ireland, the position of the victim in the criminal justice process has taken on increasing political priority.

A justice working party, chaired by Professor Joanna Shapland of Sheffield University, is currently reviewing the position of the victim in the English legal system and a report is due to be released in spring 1997.

In addition, regular meetings take place between Victim Support and criminal justice groups in the UK as part of an ongoing debate on improving the position of the victim.

The Irish move is welcomed by the Bar Council of England and Wales.

A Bar spokeswoman said: “We very much support the initiative being taken in Ireland and welcome improvement in court procedures to take account of the position of the victim.”

Roger Ede, secretary to the Law Society's criminal law committee, said the society also welcomed moves to ensure complainants in criminal cases were better informed and that witnesses on both sides were not intimidated by the nature of the criminal proceedings.

He said: “The Law Society is committed to do what it can to improve the treatment of witnesses in court.”