Number of crime victims accompanied to court up 27% in two years

Use of Victim Support at Court (VSAC) service may double in next three years, group says

The growth in victims of crime using the Victim Support at Court (VSAC) service was entirely driven by courts outside the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) in Dublin. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times.

The growth in victims of crime using the Victim Support at Court (VSAC) service was entirely driven by courts outside the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) in Dublin. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times.

 

The number of victims of crime requesting assistance and accompaniment when attending court may double in the next three years, the agency responsible for providing the service has said.

The Victim Support at Court (VSAC) service offered free court accompaniment to 1,365 people last year, a 27 per cent increase on the 2016 figure.

Dympna Kenny, the organisation’s general manager, said that as the service ramps up outside Dublin, she expects a significant increase in the number of victims and witnesses seeking assistance before a court appearance.

“We would see it within three years possibly doubling,” she said, based on the amount of cases that have come through Tallaght District Court since VSAC started offering its services there.

The growth in victims of crime using the service was entirely driven by courts outside the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) in Dublin, where VSAC is based and offers most of its services.

However, the organisation has seen a plateau in demand in the CCJ as a natural ceiling, based on the level of cases being processed, is reached.

“We don’t want our figures going up, we just want to make sure every victim coming to court has someone to provide support.”

VSAC’s annual report for last year was launched in Dublin on Wednesday by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

Much of the organisation’s work is facilitated by volunteers who agree to support the victims of some of the most serious crimes that come before the courts. More than 50 per cent of cases in which VSAC was involved last year were rapes or sexual assaults, and some 30 per cent were murders, manslaughters or attempted murders.

VSAC is seeking a 30 per cent increase in funding as it expands its services as well as more volunteers to support its clients.

Ms Kenny said that attending court can be a distressing experience for a victim.

“A courthouse is a public building. You could have a victim arriving where the accused and their family are coming through the same doors. We would meet with them and bring them to a safe area, and then they have to sit in the courtroom in front of the accused or the accused’s family,” she said.

“We’re there as an independent, non-judgemental support for them to help them through the experience.”