By Q Radio News.
Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has today published its latest review of the care and treatment of victims and witnesses by the criminal justice system.
The report examines the experience of the victim or witness from when crime occurs, charts the contact they have with the organisations within the criminal justice system and the support they receive on their journey.
“Fourteen years have passed since CJI first looked at how victims and witnesses are treated by the criminal justice system and this report recognises that improvements have been made during that time,” said Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“This inspection found evidence of dedicated individuals from across the criminal justice system and the voluntary sector working to identify personal needs and provide meaningful support to children and adults who were both victims and witnesses, during a very difficult time in their lives.
“We also identified that victims and witnesses remained fundamentally unaware of their rights to information, support and protection and that services to assist them were still not being consistently delivered to a quality standard across Northern Ireland,” said the Chief Inspector.
🎥A new report into the criminal justice system shows services designed to help witnesses here aren't up to scratch.— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) July 29, 2020
Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Jacqui Durkan has been speaking to @qnewsdesk pic.twitter.com/sldYKmc7ua
“Each victim and witness in the criminal justice system has their own personal journey and individual needs.
"They need to be listened to and they need to believe they have been heard. Providing services and support tailored to their requirements goes hand in hand with ensuring that victims and witnesses get the personal help they need, so they are better supported to give their evidence and contribute to the often long process to bring offenders to justice.”
Ms Durkin stated that when the criminal justice system failed to do this, it had a negative impact on public confidence in the justice system and could deter victims from reporting crime, which in turn enabled perpetrators to go on to commit further offences creating more victims.
The inspection identified there was often too much focus by the criminal justice organisations on statistics, meeting targets and independence and insufficient emphasis on personal experiences which often had a lifelong impact on the victim, their families and those closest to them.
There was also lack of knowledge and confusion among victims around the help and support they could get from the criminal justice system, with some questioning why they had not been provided with greater levels of support.
“We identified that substantial work is needed to raise awareness within the community about the Victim Charter and Witness Charter which set out the rights, support and protection available to victims and witnesses.
"We have recommended work to raise the profile of the rights set out in the Charters and ease of access to them is taken forward by the Department of Justice in the next 12 months,” said Ms Durkin.
“We have also made a number of strategic recommendations to senior leaders in criminal justice organisations like the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS) to improve the identification of individual victim and witness needs.”
The Chief Inspector added the report also contained a number of operational recommendations designed to assist staff engaging directly with victims and witnesses and improve partnership working across the criminal justice system with organisations such as Victim Support Northern Ireland and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
“The Victim and Witness Care Unit which provides information and assistance to victims and witnesses throughout the criminal justice process and is operated by staff from the PPS and PSNI, is a beneficial step towards supporting and helping victims and witnesses.
“The current pandemic has resulted in further delays to court hearings and trials and it is vital that victims and witnesses are kept informed and engaged to enable them to give their evidence and support prosecutions.
“The recommendations included in this report will, if implemented, support the continued development of better services to help all victims and witnesses,” said the Chief Inspector.