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Opinion: Families of murder victims have a legal right to information about the case

The Victims of Crime Bill 2015 legally obliges An Garda Síochana and the Director of Public Prosecutions to keep victims (or in homicide cases, their families) informed about their cases, writes Joan Deane.

Joan Deane

DEALING WITH THE death of a loved one is always difficult, but a death by homicide poses special problems.  

When the news of the death of a loved one by murder is received it is likely to be the most catastrophic news you will ever receive.

You are immediately thrown into shock, horror and disbelief that such a thing could happen.

I remember in my own case thinking, that if I could just meet and talk to someone else who had survived this horrific experience, that I would too be able to survive.

This is why we set up AdVIC. All our volunteers have experienced losing a family member to homicide and so we are best placed to support others through the experience.

The range of emotions that overtake you can be so immensely overwhelming that you can go into a fog-like state. It is while in this state that you will find yourself having to deal with very complex situations that are outside your normal experience. 

You are thrown into a space where you have to deal with the gardaí, the media, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the State Pathologist, the Coroner and the court service so you may well feel overwhelmed by the volume of information you have to process.

At the same time, you have to deal with the awful loss of your loved one and the horrific circumstances of their death. You may need support and help to navigate your way through this process.

This week the family of murder victims Clodagh, Liam, Niall and Ryan Hawe spoke out about their experience in the aftermath of those murders.

Clodagh’s mother Mary and her sister Jacqueline clearly felt that they were not supported by the authorities and they revealed that they found out how Clodagh was killed in the media.

Clearly, this should never happen and we would welcome any reforms to the current system, that would provide better information and support for families bereaved in this way.

Sometimes, simply being given answers can help a family to deal with their trauma and families in this situation deserve to be treated in a way that does not re-victimise them.

Bureaucracy should never be allowed to hamper families in the midst of the most traumatic experience of their lives.

The sense of helplessness commonly experienced following a homicide should not be compounded by a lack of access to information.

I don’t know why the system failed the family of Clodagh Hawe so thoroughly, but families do have rights under an EU directive and the Victims of Crime Bill 2017.

Among other things, the Bill legally obliges An Garda Síochána and the Director of Public Prosecutions to keep victims – or in homicide cases, their families – informed about their cases.

Usually, this is done through the Garda Family Liaison Officer and often this relationship works really well, they can be an invaluable asset to the family. In my own case, my liaison officer was the most unbelievably supportive and helpful person.

But at AdVIC we have had some reports from families that the family liaison officer isn’t working out well, for whatever reason. In those cases, we successfully advocated with the Gardai to change the liaison officer. 

Families should be made aware that if that relationship is not working out that they can request for the liaison officer to be changed. 

Some families might wish to contact the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions directly regarding the prosecution or pre-trial meeting. They might have legal queries and be unsure of what their rights are. 

Justice does not always mean a trial in court and indeed justice is not always achieved in court either.

When a loved one has died in such a shocking and tragic way, the family left behind have suffered a severely traumatic event. So as well as offering peer to peer support we also provide professional, fully qualified bereavement and trauma counselling. 

A lot of other organisations are snowed under and have long waiting lists to access counselling services, thankfully those bereaved by homicide can access counselling immediately through AdVIC. 

At AdVIC we know what families are going through and we will support them every step of the way. We will always advocate for their right to access information about their case. 

Joan Deane is a co-founder, volunteer and spokesperson for AdVIC.

AdVIC offers peer to peer support as well as professional counselling, including child counselling, with qualified trauma counsellors.

This service is provided free of charge and can be accessed immediately by contacting info@advic.ie or calling 086 1272156.

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Joan Deane

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