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Abuse survivors ‘must navigate three legal systems’
Orla O'Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council

03 May 2023 / justice Print

Abuse survivors ‘must navigate three legal systems’

A report from the National Women’s Council (NWC) has highlighted what it describes as “the urgent need” for reforms across the justice system for those who report domestic and sexual abuse.

The report points out that the current system means that many abuse survivors are forced to navigate three separate legal systems: criminal, family and, if children are involved, child-protection processes.

It says that the onus is on the survivor to navigate these processes simultaneously, because the systems do not acknowledge or interact with each other.

The report argues that this causes “significant trauma and revictimisation” for survivors.

System of support

The Department of Justice funded the report as part of the initiative Supporting a Victim's Journey , which is aimed at creating a 'victim-centred approach' to the system of investigating and prosecuting sexual crimes.

The report calls for a "resourced and comprehensive" system of both court and non-court support for victims of domestic or sexual violence throughout the entire journey of the various legal processes.

It says that there should be "systemic and mandatory" training for all professionals whom victims encounter during court experience - including the judiciary, lawyers, gardaí and court-services personnel - in order to provide them with an understanding of domestic and sexual violence, and its impact on both adult and child victims.

The report also calls for changes to the in camera rule, to allow victims to speak to court personnel, persons engaged in the provision of therapy, and other relevant parties, all of whom are bound by confidentiality obligations in relation to these discussions.

'Wrap-around' system

One of the report's authors, Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop, described the report as "a call to action" to address the "unique needs" of victims of domestic and sexual violence in the court system.
"Having a wrap-around system of both court and non-court support for victims throughout the entirety of the legal processes is vital in developing a system that doesn't cause additional stress and difficulties to victims of domestic and sexual abuse," she stated .

NWC director Orla O'Connor (pictured), while welcoming the fact that more women were reporting domestic and sexual-violence incidents to the authorities, said that the three relevant legal systems "don't recognize or engage with each other".

O'Connor added that this placed a significant burden on victims to connect and inform the three processes.

"Victims can be in different courts process simultaneously; for example giving evidence against the perpetrator in the criminal process, and at the same time negotiating in civil courts on child access," the NWC director said.

Minister for Justice Simon Harris described the report as "a significant analysis", adding that the department would review the recommendations carefully.  

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