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Criminal Justice Bill to Deliver Range of New Offences to Tackle Crime and Protect Victims

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has this evening passed a wide ranging Criminal Justice Bill through all stages in the Oireachtas to deliver on a series of her commitments in the Department of Justice to build stronger, safer communities.

The Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which was also worked on by Minister of State for Law Reform James Browne, has completed its passage through the Houses and has now been sent to the President for signature and enactment.

It contains measures targeting violent and organised crime, violence against Gardaí and also has a particular focus on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

These include delivery of the following key commitments in Minister McEntee’s Zero Tolerance plan to tackle Domestic, Sexual and Gender based violence:

• Increasing the maximum penalty for assault causing harm – one of the most commonly prosecuted violent offences – from 5 years to 10 years.

• Introducing a new standalone offence of non-fatal strangulation, which can be a precursor to murder in domestic abuse situations. These changes will give judges a wider range of sentencing options to consider when addressing the more serious of assault causing harm and domestic abuse cases.

• Introducing a standalone offence of stalking and strengthening the law around harassment. While any person can be a victim of stalking or harassment, they are again common behaviours in domestic abuse situations. It introduces a new stalking offence defined in terms of causing either a fear of violence, or serious alarm and distress that has a substantial impact on a person’s day-to-day activities.

• The Bill also provides for the making of civil orders restraining stalking conduct. These orders form an important first step in addressing stalking behaviour as they do not require the level of proof associated with the criminal offences. Not only are they easier to get than a criminal conviction, they provide a means for victims who don’t want to criminalise the stalker, and encourages engagement with Gardaí at an early stage.

• It will also ensure the protection of the identity of alleged victims of harassment and stalking in court proceedings. The background to this provision is that offences like harassment and stalking already impinge on a person’s privacy and personal life. Preventing public identification of victims online or in the media (unless they choose to waive their right to anonymity) is to prevent putting victims at further risk of invasion of their privacy, re-traumatisation or causing them further harm.

• The Bill will extend the restriction on alleged perpetrators carrying out their own cross-examinations of victims to a wider range of offences than at present (sexual offences), including those including violence, coercive control, stalking and harassment.

All of these changes are in fulfilment of the commitments under Minister McEntee’s Zero Tolerance plan, the Third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, and Supporting a Victim’s Journey.

Minister McEntee said, “I am delighted to pass this significant piece of legislation which delivers on many of the commitments I have made as part of my Zero Tolerance plan to tackle domestic, sexual and gender based violence. And it will also help to deliver on our commitments to build stronger, safer communities.”

“For too long sinister behaviours have been difficult to prosecute in this country. Victims of stalking and harassment, who are all too often victims of intimate partner or domestic abuse, have been unable to access the necessary protections. They have been re-traumatised by the criminal justice process.”

“One of my main priorities as Minister for Justice is to change that. I want a society that has Zero Tolerance for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, and I want to build a criminal justice system that empowers victims of sensitive crimes to come forward safe in the knowledge that the system will protect them, they will be listened to and they will be supported.”

The Bill also introduces a range of provisions that will provide better protection for Gardaí and strengthen the laws designed to tackle serious and organised crime.

These include:

• Increasing the maximum sentence for assaulting or obstructing a police officer from 7 to 12 years. The increase in maximum sentence will apply where the assault causing harm in question is against an on duty Garda or emergency service worker, such as hospital staff, prison officers, members of the fire brigade, ambulance personnel or members of the Defence Forces.

• Increasing the maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder from the current penalty of 10 years to life imprisonment. The maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder has been set at 10 years since 1861.It is used when two or more people form a plan to murder another person but are stopped before they can carry it out.

Minister McEntee said, “an attack on a Garda member or an emergency service worker is simply reprehensible and shows a complete lack of respect for the rule of law but also for communities as a whole. Assaulting a frontline worker affects not only the victim, but also the communities in which they serve – a Garda out of work because of an assault is one less Garda who can provide policing services in a local area and that can have massive ripple effects for local people.”

“I am committed to building safer, stronger communities and to protecting and supporting those who dedicate their lives and careers to keeping our communities safe. I welcome the passage of this law which will allow judges to consider a wider sentencing range of up to 12 years to appropriately reflect the harm cause by assaults on frontline workers. I would like to thank my colleague, Minister Simon Harris, for his work on this issue during his period as Minister for Justice.”

“Equally, the increase of the maximum sentence to a life sentence for conspiracy to murder is a strong reflection of our determination to tackle serious and gangland crime. Gardaí successfully intercept and prevent planned murders. That does not change the fact that the perpetrator intended to commit one of the most serious of crimes, nor does it mean that they shouldn’t feel the full rigours of the law. An Garda Síochána is doing its job by arresting those intent on committing murder, and that my proposals are targeted at these gangland criminals.”

Welcoming the passage of the Bill, Minister Browne said, “I thank all of my Government colleagues for their support on this wide-ranging Bill which will change the criminal law in a number of areas, creating better protections for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and also providing better supports for Gardaí to tackle serious crime.”

“The key impact of this Bill is that judges will have a more appropriate range of penalties available to them to impose on offenders of some of the most serious and life-changing crimes for victims. This is important in ensuring that the punishment fits the crime and that justice is served for the victim.”

The Bill also allows for the greater use of certificate evidence in court proceedings in relation to forensic evidence and also in relation to medical assessments by medical professionals. This will ensure efficiency in court proceedings, reduce the requirement for Gardaí, forensic scientists and medical professionals to attend court in person to present uncontroversial evidence and will reduce unnecessary adjournments of cases.


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