COI Gazette – 4th July 2014

NI statutory definition of a victim needs to be changed, Lord Eames tells Gazette

Lord Eames

Lord Eames

Former Primate Lord Eames has told the Gazette he believes that the statutory definition of a victim during the Northern Ireland Troubles needs to take account of the distinction between those who were engaged in lawful activity and those who were engaged in unlawful activity.

He told us that, “despite the difficulties in drafting”, the distinction should be made and he revealed that he had “argued the point with politicians frequently” and had discussed drafting problems, including those around the term ‘victim’, with civil servants.

The existing Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 defines a victim and survivor as someone injured as a result of “a conflict-related incident”, someone who provides a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for such an individual or someone bereaved as a result of such an incident.




The approach to victims and offenders from the time of the Troubles has to be marked by an unmistakably humane approach. Indeed, society as a whole must care about those who have offended, as well as their victims. Furthermore, it is certainly true that a relative’s distress at a loved one’s death or suffering through injury is just as real, whether that loved one had been acting in a right or a wrong way.

No approach to this subject can be in any way ambivalent about issues of morality. That is why Lord Eames is right to hold that the statutory definition of victims and survivors needs to recognise the distinction between lawful and unlawful actions (report, page 1). There is no lack of compassion here, because compassion and what is right or wrong are not mutually exclusive. In ministering with compassion, for example, to those who are in prison, the Church does not compromise itself because every person, innocent or guilty of any offence, is loved by God. Compassion nonetheless requires that realities are faced and that an individual is led to a right attitude to past wrongdoing.

How is society in Northern Ireland to express its compassion towards those who were injured while committing crimes in the course of the Troubles, and to their relatives and their bereaved? It will surely include helping those concerned to a real recognition, before the merciful God, of the failings involved and allowing those who committed offences to start life again with due regard to the victims of their actions and after the law has taken its due course.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of Christian living. It does not dispense with the law and its consequences, but goes much deeper. It is about a right attitude towards those who have committed a wrong, a spirit which seeks that person’s own spiritual renewal and does not harbour bitterness. It is at times a very difficult calling but is how Christian people are to allow themselves to be formed by the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit.

Part of the purpose of actually serving a sentence, quite apart from deterrence, is to allow justice to take its course, giving victims a real sense of some penalty having been paid in consequence of wrongdoing and thereby helping the victim to a right inward disposition towards the offender. Serving a sentence is also to be about correction and rehabilitation and for that reason society must ensure that its justice processes meet its obligations in a proper system for carrying through the sentences of the courts.

Law, compassion and forgiveness are deep themes and in all matters relating to victims and offenders, each theme has its important place.


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