The Victim in the Irish Criminal Process. By Shane Kilcommins, Susan Leahy, Kathleen Moore-Walsh and Eimear Spain

AuthorConor Hanly
PositionNUI Galway
[2019] Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol 3
Shane Kilcommins, Susan Leahy, Kathleen Moore-Walsh & Eimear
Spain, The Victim in the Irish Criminal Process (Manchester
University Press 2018), ISBN 978 1 5261 0638 1, 171p.
Conor Hanly, NUI Galway.
When she introduced what became the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 into
the Oireachtas, Frances Fitzgerald, the Minister for Justice and Equality, suggested that
the victim should be at the heart of the criminal process in Ireland. This has become a
common rhetorical refrain, the precise meaning of which is rarely explained. On a literal
level, the rhetoric is plainly untrue: the heart of the criminal process is the investigation
and prosecution of criminal acts, in which the victim formally remains merely a witness.
But it is true that, from the 1980s, victims’ needs and concerns have received greater
attention from lawmakers and executive agencies. The purpose of this new book is to
provide an accessible overview of the victim’s current standing in the criminal process,
and to show how this standing has changed over time.
The first chapter is historical, and shows how the position of crime victims was gradually
altered during the later eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries. For centuries,
criminal justice was largely a private matter, being dependent on the initiative of private
parties, especially the victim. As the State began to professionalise the criminal justice
system, through the advent of modern policing and public prosecution, the victim found
herself being pushed from the centre of the process to its margins. This chapter covers a
lot of ground in some twenty pages, but still conveys the context in which these changes
took place and the mechanisms by which it was accomplished. Usefully, it also notes
some of the differences that existed between the jurisdictions that formed the United
Kingdom; Public prosecution, for example, became the norm in Scotland and Ireland
long before the same occurred in England.
Chapter 2 shows how the criminal process slowly rediscovered the victim. The chapter
demonstrates the importance of the confluence of four developments: the advent of
victimology, the victims’ movement, the growing reach and influence of human rights
instruments and case law, and the politicisation of law and order. Each of these
developments is traced in some detail, with references for those interested in following
up. This chapter leads nicely into the third chapter which focuses on the measures that
the criminal justice system has implemented to improve the lot of victims: use of video-
link testimony, intermediaries, pre-trial statements. Other measures allow the victim
some degree of inclusion into the process, such as the use of victim impact statements.
This chapter takes the reader on a tour of these measures, and includes a detailed
consideration of the EU Victims’ Directive, the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act
and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, the latter two enacted in 2017. These three
measures will underpin the treatment of victims in Irish law for many years into the
future. In Chapter 5, when considering ongoing challenges for the criminal justice
system, the authors correctly point out that the focus of the Irish legislation is on victims
who have engaged with the criminal justice system, especially the Gardaí [p.113]; the
position of victims who have not done so, or who have engaged with agencies other then
the Gardaí is unclear.

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