O’Higgins report: Wider use of victim impact statements urged

Accounts should be ‘furnished in all courts’, notes Justice Kevin O’ Higgins document

The Higgins report noted that the force’s shortcomings are partly due to lack of “tutor gardaí” to supervise new recruits. Photograph: The Irish Times

The Higgins report noted that the force’s shortcomings are partly due to lack of “tutor gardaí” to supervise new recruits. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

The use of victim impact statements should be standard procedure in all courts, including at lower levels where it is not common practice, an investigation into claims of Garda malpractice has recommended.

The report of the commission of investigation into the Cavan-Monaghan region of An Garda Síochána, chaired by Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins, makes a number of recommendations for the force and the Government. The commission, which examined claims made by Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, recommends that victim impact statements should be “furnished in all courts”.

The report says that while giving a victim impact statement is “quite unusual” at District Court level, it is not “unheard of”.

Hearing such statements in the lower courts would allow judges to better adjudicate whether or not to grant bail, the report suggests.

“The right to furnish a victim impact statement in all courts, including the District Court, is enshrined in law, but not always availed of in practice . . . The commission considers that it should be standard procedure that a victim impact statement, where relevant, should be furnished in all courts.”

The issue of victim impact statements at District Court level is dealt with in the case of Mary Lynch, who was the victim of a “savage assault” in April 2007 and was “denied her right to be present when the matter was ultimately dealt with in court”.

Abduction

Ms Lynch, a taxi driver, was assaulted by Jerry McGrath, who was later convicted of murdering Sylvia Roche Kelly while out on bail. Ms Lynch had wanted to give a victim impact statement and, although the O’Higgins report said her presence at in court was “very unlikely to have had any bearing on the outcome of the case”, she was entitled to be in court, the report said.

The report noted the court had been unaware of the fact that McGrath was facing serious charges arising from the attempted abduction of a five-year-old girl from a house in Tipperary. However, it was not possible to state what effect such knowledge would have had on the decision to grant bail.

Another recommendation in the report is that both the prosecution and defence in a case have the right to see the contents of any psychiatric report the judge is relying on to make a decision.

Garda sources said they were concerned some of the force’s shortcomings revealed in the report may be more likely to occur now. “A big part of some of these incidents, or certainly the starting point, was inexperienced young members not handling things the way they should have; not treating them as the serious crimes they were, and nobody supervising them,” said one superintendent.

The same source pointed out there had been no Garda recruitment during most of the period Sgt McCabe’s allegations date back to, meaning the lack of senior members to supervise young gardaí was now even more acute.

Supervision levels

Every probationer garda is assigned a “tutor garda” and a supervising sergeant to assist and teach them in the field. However, some sources said because there had been chronic staff shortages, many of those among the last classes to graduate from the Garda College have never received the supervision they should have.

“You have a system now where some gardaí with maybe five to seven years’ experience are being assigned as the tutor garda for the people now coming out of the college,” said one Garda member. “But they may never have been tutored properly themselves.”