Northern Ireland charity says victims of crime 'finally being listened to'
A charity which has helped people affected by crime for more than 30 years has said victims are finally being listened to.
Victim Support (Northern Ireland), set up in 1981 to provide practical and emotional assistance, has hailed a new government strategy designed to help people cope with the demands of the criminal justice system.
"This is a really interesting example of devolution actually working in terms of local people," said Susan Reid, chief executive of Victim Support NI.
"For our first local Justice Minister to strategically lay out the importance of how victims experience the criminal justice system is a very positive action."
In Northern Ireland it takes over two years, on average, for a criminal case to reach court.
Ms Reid said victims are unable to move on in the interim.
"People are almost psychologically holding their breath for it to be over, hoping that this is going to make them feel better. Yet, too often, justice even when it is served and when it works effectively and efficiently it is not going to actually make good the effect the harm that the crime has caused in the first place," she said.
Among the new measures designed to smooth the legal process for victims and witnesses is the use of specialist intermediaries for vulnerable adults and children, as well as the establishment of dedicated care units where one member of staff has responsibility for a case from when it enters the system.
Both measures could produce substantial savings because court cases could proceed without unnecessary delay, Victim Support claimed.
Justice Minister David Ford's five-year strategy Making A Difference was produced after an inquiry by the Stormont justice committee took evidence from victims during a face-to-face session hosted by Victim Support NI.
"It was a very powerful session. It is really rewarding to see that all of the recommendations, all of the issues that were raised, were incorporated into the final strategy," said Ms Reid.
"Attention will deflect on to the perpetrator, or on to the system, but actually considering what the needs are of the people who has experienced the crime, whether it is burglary, assault, sexual violence, is quite a challenge.