Today, Wednesday 26 June 2013, Independent Senator and children’s rights activist, Jillian van Turnhout, has tabled a substantive amendment to the Courts Bill 2013 to introduce legal standards governing the disclosure of counselling communications and therapy notes of children in sexual abuse criminal proceedings.
“I am acutely aware of the need to strike the proper and appropriate balance between the right of child witnesses in child sexual abuse cases to privacy as well as their right not to be re-victimised or unduly traumatised by the criminal justice system, the right of the accused to procedural fairness, and the public interest. I believe my amendment has found this balance.”
The increasing commonality with which orders for disclosure, including counselling and therapeutic records, are made with respect to child witnesses, coupled with an absence of legislative guidelines and clear practice on the issue has lead Senator van Turnhout to seek this legislative solution:
“I believe with the legislative solution I am proposing, it is wholly compatible with Irish Constitutional law, Ireland’s obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights, and the best interests of the child to provide in law that the disclosure of sexual assault counselling communications will only granted by the trial court where: the evidence sought has substantive probative value; there is no other evidence which could prove the disputed facts; and the public interest in disclosure outweighs the potential harm to the child.”
The issue has never been subject to sustained analysis and consideration by the Superior Courts in Ireland or the Legislator. As such, today’s debate marks a significant juncture in the future alignment of these competing rights.