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Justice system not supporting victims adequately: report

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Comments: Jacqui Durkin

Comments: Jacqui Durkin

Comments: Jacqui Durkin

Victims and witnesses remain "fundamentally unaware" of their rights to information, support and protection within the criminal justice system, a new report has found.

The Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland report said while there had been improvement in recent years, services to assist victims and witnesses are still not being consistently delivered to a quality standard.

The CJI examined the journey of the victim or witness from when a crime is committed through to the contact they have with organisations such as the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

Inspectors also examined services provided by the NI Courts and Tribunals Service, Probation Board, Prison Service and Youth Justice Agency.

They identified too much focus by 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.

Jacqui Durkin, chief inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, said: "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."

The CJI made 16 recommendations including an undertaking by the Department of Justice to deliver an effective communications strategy to raise awareness of the Victim and Witness Charters and how victim and witness services can be accessed easily.

Better training for PSNI officers and VWCU staff was also recommended, along with improved partnerships between the criminal justice system and Victim Support NI.

The chief inspector also highlighted that delays to court hearings and trials because of the Covid-19 pandemic could be problematic and said it is vital victims and witnesses were kept informed and engaged "to enable them to give their evidence and support prosecutions".

Justice Minister Naomi Long said she is committed to working with criminal justice partners to further improve outcomes for victims and witnesses on their journey through the system.

Mrs Long said her department is in the process of setting up a ministerially commissioned reference group to advise on the potential remit of a general Victims of Crime Commissioner for Northern Ireland.

"The group will include representatives from key organisations who can speak on behalf of victims and criminal justice organisations responsible for providing information and support to victims as they move through the criminal justice system," she added.

Belfast Telegraph