Owen welcomes victim statement debate

 

The former Minister for Justice Nora Owen has said she welcomes the debate surrounding victims impact statements following Mr Justice Paul Carney's comments on the issue during the week.

Speaking on RTE's This Weekprogramme Ms Owen, who is also a member of the Commission for Victims of Crime, said Mr Justice Carney raised an important issue which is "getting the debate it deserves."

Ms Owen also regretted that she could not debate the issue with the judge at the time of his comments.

"I would have liked to have heard Judge Carney's further views on legislation for the impact statements," she said.

Ms Owen's comments come after Mr Justice Paul Carney told a Law Society event last Wednesday night that anyone misusing their right to make a statement should be dealt with firmly.

Mr Justice Carney, one of the State's leading criminal trial judges, said victims should be careful not to unwittingly act in collusion with the tabloid press if they choose to make an impact statement.

He said the media had at times turned "victims into such an iconic status that other participants in the trial process including the judge are handicapped in the discharge of their independent roles".

It is widely accepted that Mr Justice Carney was implicitly referring to the Robert Holohan case in 2005 in which Wayne O'Donoghue was sentenced to four years for the manslaughter of 11-year-old Robert in Middleton, Co Cork.

In her victim impact statement, Robert's mother, Majella, departed from the agreed text to question why semen stains found on her son's body had not been introduced in evidence.

Victim impact statements are agreed between the prosecutor and the defence and may not impinge upon the rights of the convicted offender.

But Ms Holohan departed from her submitted text to add further information which O'Donoghue's defence counsel could only deny in public creating a legal grey area.

On another radio programme today the Supreme Court Judge and President of the Law Reform Commission Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness said she does not support the censoring of victim impact statements.

She said that victim impact sentences shouldn't be a factor in the length of sentence given because a judge should be able to empathise with the feelings of a victim without havingt to hear their remarks.