Belfast Telegraph

Justice must not forget victims

Editor's Viewpoint

Many members of the public will be glad to know that the PSNI is operating a speedy justice system which will help to free up the police and courts to deal with other offences, but there are worries about the lack of consistency in such an approach. The latest figures show that police officers are dealing with some 1,400 low-level crimes each month by using discretionary disposals, and over the past 33 months more than 48,000 cases were handled this way.

Instead of formally pursuing such crimes as vandalism, theft, traffic offences and other law infringements, those responsible can avoid a criminal record by agreeing to issue a verbal or written apology, complete unpaid work or repair any damage they caused.

This method is used provided the victims agree to such an approach. This is certainly a creative way of dealing with the kind of offences which can become bogged down with red tape and can further overload the justice system.

It makes sense that a police officer can deal with these infringements on the spot, and that these can be cleared up in a way agreed by all parties. However, it may be another matter for persistent offenders who may be dealt with differently.

The real worry in all of this is the consistency of the justice being meted out by the speedy system. A senior lawyer makes the point that there is an inconsistency across several police jurisdictions, and that some officers are keener than others to use discretionary disposals.

There is also the human factor involved. Policing Board member Jonathan Craig makes the point that an elderly motorist was prosecuted for failing to indicate when turning a corner, but another officer might have dealt with this using a discretionary proposal. There are inconsistencies in every system, and it is incumbent on the police to handle these cases in a way that retains the public's confidence. Above all, we must keep in mind the victims in these cases, and if they are not happy with this system of speedy justice it should not be allowed to prevail.

The key is whether or not an apology or compensation is regarded by the victims to be sufficient. Speedy justice is meaningless unless it is accepted as justice.

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