Unit to aid 23,000 crime victims
A single point of contact for victims of crime in Northern Ireland has been launched.
The joint police and prosecution service unit will provide information about the progress of cases and referrals to other services for further support.
A case officer will tell them when police have completed an investigation and notify them when a decision is taken whether to prosecute and when court hearings are concluded.
Around 23,000 victims a year will be dealt with from bases in Belfast and Derry.
Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC said: "It creates a single point of contact within the criminal justice system, providing a clear focus for and on victims and witnesses."
The case officer will also tell a victim if a defendant has been freed on bail.
If the matter proceeds to full trial the official will provide advice about making a victim statement, which can be submitted to the court and is often referenced by sentencing judges, as well as giving updates about key stages of the case.
The role includes relaying details of the verdict, sentences and appeals.
It also entails working with witnesses in trials, which can be a stressful and strange experience for many.
The Victim and Witness Care Unit (VWCU) will help 160,000 people a year using 57 case officers. No extra funding has been provided.
Mr McGrory added: "The establishment of the VWCU is a joint initiative between PPS (Public Prosecution Service) and PSNI to ensure victims and witnesses receive a first class service and recognises the significant role they play in the justice system."
Its primary function is to keep victims and witnesses fully informed of progress in their case. Mr McGrory added: "The unit will communicate with them by their preferred means of contact, providing timely and relevant information."
It will also assess their individual needs and, where appropriate, offer access to additional services.
Justice minister David Ford said: "The new unit is a major part of our response to feedback from victims and is already making a real, practical difference to people's lives."
It has been running in pilot form since November 2012.
Mr Ford added: "It is an excellent example of the value of working in partnership with effective collaboration working between the PPS and the police service, supported by staff from Victim Support NI."
A separate piece of work is being carried out into support when the offender is in prison and upon leaving prison.
PSNI assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton said: "Being a victim of a crime or witnessing a crime can often be a harrowing experience for those concerned.
"We hope that the establishment of this single point of contact will enable a multi-agency co-ordinated approach to ensure that those affected by crime are kept informed of the progress of their case."