Belfast Telegraph

Victims and witnesses charter urged

A victims and witnesses charter should be drawn up to help ensure Northern Ireland's criminal justice system treats them with dignity and respect, a report has said.

People are frequently left frustrated or demoralised and sometimes devastated by their dealings with the system, Stormont's justice committee warned.

It said a charter was necessary to ensure officials placed appropriate priority on providing services victims and witnesses should be entitled to.

The committee report said: "The committee has found that...victims, witnesses and bereaved families frequently find their experience in dealing with the criminal justice organisations frustrating, demoralising and on occasion devastating."

The committee made 30 recommendations.

It said the rights blueprint could say victims should receive information on the progress of their case and the reasons for any delay. They should be informed of the outcome of their case or be given a reason for the decision not to prosecute within set timescales, it suggested.

Victims should be provided with additional support if they are vulnerable or intimidated, the report said, and must receive information about the offender's release from custody and arrangements for their supervision in the community within certain timescales.

The report said: "The committee is of the view that fundamentally all victims and witnesses are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect by the criminal justice system and to be provided with the appropriate level of information in a timely manner."

"As the criminal organisations have been unable to achieve this to date, the committee does not believe that the introduction of further guidance documents will accomplish the step-change required."

It added: "It is the committee's view that the introduction of a victim and witness charter is necessary to redress the balance in the system and ensure that the criminal justice agencies place appropriate priority on providing the services that victims and witnesses require and should be entitled to receive."

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