On January 23, Judge Hugh O’Donnell ordered a donation of €5,000 be made to Women’s Aid and Simon Communities. In the past, Women’s Aid has received donations from the courts but it has not always been clear what the nature of the case has been. Because of the nature of this court ordered donation; that it was from a man accused of assaulting his then girlfriend, this donation provided the impetus for Women’s Aid to review our policy on accepting court ordered donations.
We support women in court on a daily basis where we see the direct effects of disappointing and dangerous outcomes. It is difficult for us to be able to comment on an individual case, where we do not have access to all the facts, and we can only imagine that disappointment was felt by the complainant in this case.
Women can leave court terrified of retribution for pursuing charges, or having lost a case face returning to the same home as their abuser. All too often, women feel disempowered and re-victimised in the court system, and we seek to support and empower women throughout this process through court accompaniment and support. Our support workers work with women to create a safety plan for after a court case addressing all possible outcomes, so that women and children can remain safe while pursuing justice.
Overall, Women’s Aid seeks to put the women we support, and all women experiencing abuse, in a central position in our decision-making.
Therefore, we will follow the wishes of the injured party in any case where the court orders a defendant to pay a donation towards Women’s Aid. We will accept a donation where the injured party is consulted and in agreement with Women’s Aid as the nominated beneficiary of the donation.
We have written to the courts to advise them of this policy, including in this particular case.
We believe that injured parties should have the right to be consulted in this regard, and will seek to have this included in the Victims Charter published by the Victims of Crime Office, and to inform court policy.
At this time, Women’s Aid along with other charities can receive donations ordered by the courts anonymously, without being informed by the courts or the defendant of the nature of the donation. We will therefore implement this policy when we have the necessary information to do so, while endeavouring to improve court practice so that we always have this information.
One of the things we are very aware of through our services is that women need quality representation and are often not in a position to obtain it, especially since the rise in legal aid fees to a minimum of €130.00. In this case we therefore sought to turn a negative outcome for one woman into a positive tool to allow other women access justice, by creating a fund for women to cover legal aid fees when they are unable to do so themselves. We will continue to build the legal fund for women, in line with this overall policy.
We hope that the public outcry created by this sentence will be heard in the legal system. We will continue to keep a watch on sentences relating to domestic abuse crimes reported in the media, as full sentencing data is not released by the courts.
It is clear that sentences in the form of suspended sentences or fines can be less than adequate. We have recommended sentencing guidelines to the current Review of Domestic Violence Legislation, among many other recommendations that, if enacted, would immediately increase safety for women and children.
A long-term goal of Women's Aid has been to work more closely with the judiciary to deliver training on domestic abuse, which is common in other jurisdictions such as the US. We hope that better understanding of the issue coupled with strong sentencing guidelines can help women feel safe in accessing the legal system and provide for better outcomes.