Ireland should have a Victims Commissioner, advocate says

Seminar hears it is rare for victims to have legal remedy when their rights not upheld

Ireland was falling further and further behind EU member states of equivalent GDP when it came to victims rights, the seminar heard. Photograph: iStock

Ireland was falling further and further behind EU member states of equivalent GDP when it came to victims rights, making it a necessity that a Victims Commissioner be appointed, a Dublin webinar was told on Thursday.

Lev Altan, executive director at Victim Support Europe which advocates for an average two million victims annually in 31 countries including those in the EU, said that advancing victims' rights in Ireland was not a political priority.

“A (Victims) Commissioner position would actually fundamentally help do that,” he said.

He called on all victims organisations in Ireland “to get together with all of the women’s organisations, disability groups, LGBTI groups etc., so that you’re able to say ‘look if the Government is serious about this then this is one of the major ways they can make it happen’.”


He was speaking at the Victims' Rights Alliance webinar, hosted by Maeve Lewis, chair of Victims' Rights Alliance and chief executive of One in Four Ireland.

Mr Altan said it was "pretty rare for victims of crime to have effective legal remedies where there's a failure to uphold their rights." It was " something we are pushing for the EU to make progress on," he said.

“If you’re a suspect or a defendant and your fair trial rights are not being upheld, you have very clear, very strong legal remedies which are transparent and which are supported through the provision of legal aid,” he said.

“When we come to victims it is a highly variable situation and many victims in many countries barely have any legal remedies. In some countries you have an inspectorate to look at these things, A commissioner can have that role,” he said.

Michael O'Connell, who had been Commissioner for Victims' Rights in South Australia for 12 years to 2018, observed that "over the last 100 years our justice systems have been designed having in mind authoritarian states and the harm that's being caused to innocent people in the abuse of power.

“As a result we measure justice at the moment by finding guilty people guilty; trying to make sure innocent people are not found guilty; and making sure it’s all done in an efficient manner.”

He felt that “we are now at a stage of development in our western democratic societies at least where we should be reviewing what are the measures of effective justice which should include a victim-centric perspective and can include legitimate discussions about the role of victims within the justice system.”

What was needed was “systems in place which ensure that victims are able to report the crime, that they are treated in a proper manner throughout the whole proceedings and that they can participate in different ways and expand the notion of the level of participation,” he said.

“In common law countries we’ve got to the point where we have accepted impact statements but I don’t see why we can’t be examining the extent to which you can give victims some ability to seek that certain evidence is taken into account or at least collected,” he said.

He recalled a rape victim saying “the experience she had with the police was worse than the rape. And I believe this sort of situation happens in Ireland. You cannot say that is acceptable. You have to fundamentally review what’s going wrong with your justice system when victims say that.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times