Victims 'unaware' of appeal rights
Prosecutors are not doing enough to alert victims to their right to appeal when charges against suspects are dropped or altered, a new report has revealed.
The review by Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) Northern Ireland said the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) should flag up in letters to victims that they can appeal against decisions.
The report said inserting a leaflet among correspondence mentioning the option did not go far enough, while PPS engagement with victims was said at times to be "reluctant and insincere".
The watchdog organisation accepted that legal barriers posed difficulties for the PPS but said that while some progress had been made in dealing with victims and families, more action was required.
Deputy Chief Inspector Brendan McGuigan said: "We found that the PPS has taken important steps forward in the development of its policies and procedures regarding the giving of reasons to victims on prosecution decisions, and found many examples of good practice.
"However, the inspection did find that operational practice could be improved and was not consistent across the organisation."
The purpose of the inspection was to consider whether there were effective, appropriate guidelines and mechanisms in place surrounding the policy and practice on giving reasons for PPS decisions.
"Many people who enter into the justice system as victims do so for the first time. As such they often will have very little knowledge of how the system works," said Mr McGuigan.
"It is important therefore that the criminal justice agencies provide as much information as is reasonable to ensure that victims can understand what is happening in order to help them cope with what can be a traumatic and life-changing experience. This is especially important in cases where charges are altered or withdrawn."
Under the current PPS policy, the offer to meet with victims or families over their cases and the decisions made are a matter for discretion, the report said. Inspectors found there was a "paucity of such offers" and the report recommended that offers to meet are regularly included in a range of more serious cases.