An extension of the restriction on the cross-examination of alleged victims by the accused is among the amendments to the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill approved by Government.
Under the new measures, courts may prevent an accused in a sexual offence case from cross-examining the alleged victim themselves.
Alleged perpetrators will also be prevented from carrying out their own cross-examinations in a broader range of offences, including those involving violence, and offences such as coercive control, stalking and harassment.
Interests of justice
This is an update to section 14C(2) of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 which allows a court to direct that the interests of justice may require that a person accused of a sexual offence cross-examine the witness.
The identity of alleged victims of harassment and stalking will also be kept anonymous in prosecutions, with quicker routes to civil orders retraining stalking.
Restrictions on the publication of identity will apply to both the alleged victim and the defendant in relation to prosecutions for breaches of a civil restraining order.
Such restrictions may be waived by the alleged victim in both cases, and may be disapplied by the court.
New civil restraining orders against stalking and harassment will now be taken on an emergency basis where there may be an immediate risk to the applicant.
Justice minister Helen McEntee stated that reforming criminal law is part of a national strategy for zero tolerance on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
She stated that alleged victims will be protected and the aim of the strategy is “to bring about changes in attitudes and in systems”.
“The new system of civil orders is important as these target stalking at an early stage. They will restrain stalking behaviour and protect victims. These orders allow earlier intervention and do not require a criminal prosecution,” the minister stated.
"The new orders also go further than what is possible under domestic violence legislation in terms of who an order can be made against (that is, not just close relationships) and the kind of conduct that can be prohibited by the court.”
Civil orders are currently made by the affected person on notice to the other person.
The making of a short-term order will now be permitted without such notice.
If, after an application is made on notice, the court hasn’t yet decided whether to make an order, it can make a temporary order under pending a final determination under this proposal.
The bill will also:
- Increase the maximum sentence for assault causing harm from five years to ten years,
- Allow life sentences for conspiracy to murder,
- Make stalking and non-fatal strangulation standalone offences, and
- Expand the existing harassment offence.
Minister McEntee has also announced that she will introduce amendments to provide for the making of new civil restraining orders against stalking and harassment on an emergency basis where there may be an immediate risk to the safety and welfare of the applicant.
Minister of State James Browne said: “We know that, historically, many people may not have felt able to come forward because they did not have confidence that the system would support and protect them.
“I hope that the amendments announced today will allow victims to have confidence in the criminal-justice system and feel supported when making reports to An Garda Síochána.”