A fresh opportunity for victims of crime to have their voices heard

March 29th, 2022 8:30 AM

By Emma Connolly

Enjoying a recent visit back home to Bantry was Rebecca Coen, the Law Reform Commission’s director of research. (Photo: Karlis Dzjamko)

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A Bantry woman is urging victims of violent crime to have their stories heard and to help reform how the Irish State pays compensation in such cases. The system needs to be more victim-focused, she says.

BANTRY native Rebecca Coen is director of research at the Law Reform Commission (LRC) and is driving a major piece of work to reduce unnecessary barriers and procedural hurdles for victims of crime to access compensation.

The idea is to reduce trauma, and improve access with a more victim-focused approach. 

The LRC is an independent statutory body, and its mission is to keep the law under independent objective and expert review.

‘We strive to make the law accessible to everybody,’ explains Rebecca. 

She joined the LRC in 2020, on the eve of the pandemic, from the office of the DPP where she worked for 14 years. 

‘The LRC is a good fit for me, because it’s a reflective organisation, and also a creative legal organisation in so far as we’re trying to find solutions to the legal problems that arise for the community in general. 

‘But we’re also looking at areas where modernisation is needed so in relation to this project, compensating victims of crime, there actually isn’t a law that provides for this. But in our view there should be.

‘There is a system for State-funded compensation for victims of crime, but it seems to us at the Law Reform Commission, having examined this, that the system isn’t really designed with a victim-focus.’

Rebecca said victims may not know how to access the current scheme which is arranged by the Department of Justice, may be traumatised when they come to make the application, or have to wait until the end of the criminal process in order to get their award. 

‘In this consultation we want to make contact with victims of crime, we want them to make contact with us, about how we can design a trauma responsive compensation system that aids them in their recovery. Because that’s the whole point. This is about the State providing compensation to victims who would otherwise not be in a position to recover compensation.’

Rebecca says they also hope to potentially broaden out the system. 

‘It could be about targeted tailored supports and interventions, such as getting physiotherapy within an appropriate timeframe. Or someone might have an outlay of €800 for dental treatment immediately after an assault, and they mightn’t have that money. 

‘What we see in Australia and other jurisdictions is a much swifter process to get access to those kind of immediate supports.

‘Here you get substantially more compensation but it could be many years – even 10 years – in which case you’ve moved on, or you haven’t moved on.’

Currently, only vouched expenses are covered in the scheme, but Rebecca said they are examining if things like pain and suffering should also be compensated. 

Consultations are continuing until April 19th, and so far Rebecca said they’ve had a very positive response from victims of crime and from various groups that represent them. 

The LRC has set out some provisional ideas, but Rebecca said they’re ‘open to everyone’s ideas.’ 

Coordinating commissioner on this project is Clonakilty man Mr Justice Maurice Collins, judge of the Court of Appeal and law reform commissioner. The project’s principal researcher is Rachel Gaffney, who also has West Cork credentials – her mum Miriam Hassett was born in Skibbereen. 

The next step will be to publish a report of the recommendations. 

‘Many of our recommendations do become law and the Department of Justice is engaging closely with us on this,’ Rebecca pointed out. 

‘It can be difficult for victims to have their voices heard, and we want to hear from them directly. We want to eliminate as many bureaucratic hurdles as we possibly can, but we need to figure out how to do that.’

• Submissions can be posted to Law Reform Commission, Styne House, Upper Hatch Street, Dublin 2, D02 DY27 before April 19th.

Rebecca empowered by strong women

REBECCA credits the influence of many strong West Cork women over the years for helping her in her career. 

First up is her mother, pharmacist Catherine Coen, who she describes as an ‘accomplished business woman.’ 

She was also influenced by a close friend of her mum’s, the late Bambi Cotter.

‘She contributed a lot to the community in Bantry, was involved in the Chamber of Commerce, and public life locally which was really impressive and she was a big inspiration to me. 

‘Celine O’Connor is another Bantry woman who is very accomplished in the corporate world and Mari Hurley – those women have all been important figures to me.’ 

In her 14 years working for the DPP she was also surrounded by lots of ‘strong women.’

‘For most of my time there the DPP was Claire Loftus, succeeded by Catherine Pierse, and the chief prosecution solicitor is Helena Kiely from Innishannon.’

If you're a victim of violent crime, indicate your reform preferences by completing this LRC survey.

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