Charity accompanied 1,365 victims and witnesses to court in 2018

Being recognised and not being believed is cited as one of the main worries for victims

Victim Support at Court (V-Sac) said there has been a one third increase in its workload in the last two years.

Victim Support at Court (V-Sac) said there has been a one third increase in its workload in the last two years.

 

Crime Correspondent

A charity which provides support and advice to complainants in criminal trials has said its workload has increased by more than a third in the last two years.

Victim Support at Court (V-Sac), a volunteer service, dealt with 356 trials, 15 retrials, 85 sentence hearings and eleven appeals around the country.

It accompanied 1,365 victims and witnesses to court in 2018, an increase of 37 per cent since 2016.

It also organised 85 pre-trial visits for victims and witnesses to familiarise them with the court process in an effort to make them less nervous on the day of their case.

V-Sac receives referrals from the Garda, the Director of Public Prosecutions and other support services.

Last year its volunteers gave up 1,200 days of their time to accompany people to rape, murder, human trafficking and domestic violence hearings, among others.

Victims can be very nervous coming to court for the first time, according to V-Sac volunteer Ciara Murphy.

Speaking in the witness suite in the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin, a large area with board games, magazines and tea and coffee making facilities, she said one of the main worries for victims is “not being believed.”

Many rape victims also worry about people, even family members, finding out about their case or seeing them in court, Ms Murphy said.

Last year, 53 per cent of the people V-Sac accompanied to court were involved in rape or sexual assault trials.

“They carry a lot with them because of that secrecy but hopefully when they come in here they feel they can talk to us and have a listening ear.”

V-Sac volunteers give victims a tour of the court, explain how jury selection works and what they are likely to face once when called to give evidence.

“We tell them to take their time and to listen to the question. A lot of people would answer ‘yes’ without knowing what they’re answering ‘yes’ to.

She said she tries to make victims feel less intimidated by the lawyers and judges by explaining “they just here to do their jobs. They’re not trying to trip you up.”

Every case is a tough case, Ms Murphy said. “There are no happy endings here.”

But it can also be a rewarding process for victims, even if the accused is found not guilty.

“You actually see people grow in here. Their confidence grows. Some people, regardless of the outcome, are happy that they stood up for themselves and that they did everything they could.”

In recent years victims have been making greater use of the video-link evidence facilities, which allow child witnesses to give evidence to the court from a separate room.

People with special needs and particularly vulnerable witnesses can also use these facilities under victims’ rights legalisation introduced in 2017.

“Everybody is vulnerable coming to court but these would be more for injured parties who might not be able to speak when they go in there, they literally can’t get the words out,” Ms Murphy said. “It would also be for people who have felt intimidated.”