Victim of sexual violence recommends changes to justice system

Sarah Grace discusses disclosure of therapy notes with Minister for Justice

A victim of serious sexual violence, Sarah Grace met Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and department officials on Tuesday to discuss the experience of victims of sexual violence in the criminal justice system.

Ms Grace suffered serious sexual and physical violence in a random attack at her apartment in Grand Canal Dock in Dublin in July 2019. Her attacker was sentenced to 10 years in prison earlier this month.

Since the solicitor spoke out about her experience in an article in The Irish Times, she drafted a list of seven recommendations for legislative, administrative, and cultural change in the system in order to prevent victims being re-traumatised at trial.

A key aspect of these recommendations concerns the disclosure of therapy or counselling notes of victims to legal teams representing the accused in sexual offences trials. While many victims believe their therapy sessions to be private, a provision for compelling the disclosure of counselling records held by a counsellor or therapist without the consent of the person was inserted into the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017. This procedure is applicable only in criminal trials where there are sexual offences.


Ms Grace’s recommendation is to remove or repeal this provision, which is provision 19(A) of Section 39 of the Act titled “disclosure of third party records in certain trials”.

Ms Grace raised with the Minister that had the attack she experienced not included sexual violence, her attacker’s defence team would not have access to her therapy notes or counselling records. “There would never be an incidence where the counselling records of a victim would be requested if he had broken into my house, savagely attacked me, stolen all of my things. There would be no question that my counselling records [be disclosed],” she said.

‘Feeling heard’

Ms Grace said she “came out feeling heard and listened to. The meeting with the Minister is a culmination of the response that I’ve received since the article was first published. I don’t feel alone any more, which is giving me a lot of hope.

“I don’t know what can be achieved, but certainly I see there’s an intention to do something. It’s important for the public to keep this on the radar and keep pushing so it doesn’t get pushed back on the list of priorities.”

A spokesman for the Minister said Ms McEntee was “grateful that Sarah had chosen to share her experience to help improve the criminal justice system for sexual violence victims”. The spokesman described the meeting as “very positive” and said they would “keep in touch on Sarah’s proposals and ideas and on ongoing reform to help victims”.

Officials in the Department of Justice are drafting a new Sexual Offences Bill, which will be published towards the end of the year. Ms Grace is meeting the Director of Public Prosecutions next week to discuss some of her recommendations.

Una Mullally

Una Mullally

Una Mullally, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly opinion column