New strategy will address the needs of victims and witnesses - Ford
Justice Minister, David Ford, has published the first strategy under devolution to improve the services for victims and witnesses of crime in Northern Ireland.
~ Thursday, 13 June 2013
I want to make sure that there is a greater focus on victims and witnesses, receiving better treatment than in the past. The actions within this Strategy will make the criminal justice system more responsive to the individual needs of victims and witnesses.
Northern Ireland Department of Justice
The Strategy, ‘Making a Difference’, contains 51 actions to be delivered over a five year period and builds upon many of the recommendations from the Committee for Justice inquiry into the services available to victims and witnesses of crime as well as taking into account the views of a wide range of organisations and victims. 30 of the 51 actions will be delivered within the first two years of the Strategy (2013-15).
The Strategy consists of five broad themes, under which new or enhanced services will be introduced for victims and witnesses. These services will include Registered Intermediary Schemes, Victim and Witness Care Units and a statutory Victim Charter.
Launching the strategy in Belfast the Minister said: “Devolution presented us with a real opportunity to address the needs of victims and witnesses and to provide better quality services for those who come into contact with the criminal justice system. The ‘Making a Difference’ Strategy will do just that.
“I want to make sure that there is a greater focus on victims and witnesses, receiving better treatment than in the past. The actions within this Strategy will make the criminal justice system more responsive to the individual needs of victims and witnesses.”
David Ford highlighted the important contribution from the Justice Committee, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) and victims of crime and their representatives, in informing the development of the Strategy.
He said: “The Committee for Justice Inquiry provided victims and their representatives with an opportunity to share their experiences of the criminal justice system. Their report and reports from Criminal Justice Inspection helped shape the ‘Making a Difference’ Strategy.
“I believe that we have made a good start since devolution, but we can always do more and it is important that these productive relationships continue if we are to further improve the criminal justice system for victims and witnesses.”
Responding to the launch of the strategy, the Chief Executive of Victim Support Northern Ireland, Susan Reid, said: “The ‘Making a Difference’ Victim and Witness Strategy not only gave those affected by crime a voice, but with the priorities set out by the Justice Minister, the work of his officials and the inquiry led by the Justice Committee, the process heard people’s experiences and has outlined actions to address these issues.
“Victim Support NI would also like to personally thank those who came forward and spoke so powerfully about their ordeals, which ultimately helped to formulate the ‘Making a Difference’ Victim and Witness Strategy.”
Also commenting on the launch of the strategy, the NSPCC Northern Ireland National Head of Service, Neil Anderson, stated: “There are many strands to ensuring that victims and witnesses are to the fore in the judicial process, and the outworkings of this strategy will be a very welcome step forward.
“When children and young people feature so significantly as victims and witnesses of crime, it is imperative that we question the reasons why cases are lost from the legal system, and how we can make the process more positive and less traumatic.
“Thanks to the Department of Justice, in conjunction with the PSNI and Northern Ireland Courts Service, our Young Witness Service is leading the rest of the UK in supporting the most vulnerable through the vagaries of the judicial system.
“We look forward to further progress, in relation to system improvements around the taking of evidence early in the process, and welcome the Minister’s intention to bring forward video recording cross examination of victims and witnesses, to spare them cross examination in a live court setting.”
Notes to Editors
The five strands of the strategy are:
(i)the status and treatment of victims and witnesses;
(ii)communication and providing information;
(iii)providing support and special measures;
(iv)getting involved and improved understanding; and
(v)gathering information and research on the experiences of victims and witnesses
2. Registered Intermediaries are professionals with specialist skills in communication. They assist vulnerable victims, witnesses and defendants (including suspects), with significant communication difficulties, to give evidence during the police investigation and at trial. In some cases they will make the difference between a vulnerable victim being able to tell the police what happened to them and to go on to give evidence in court. A Registered Intermediary can also assist vulnerable defendants in having a fair trial. The pilot Registered Intermediaries Schemes are operating in Belfast Crown Court for serious offences that have occurred in the Belfast district council area. Further information on the Registered Intermediaries schemes can be found here.
3. Victim and witness care unit services are to be rolled out across Northern Ireland,providing a single point of contact for victims and witnesses for as much of the criminal justice process as possible. A formal assessment process will identify the needs of individual victims and witnesses at the earliest stage and review these, as necessary, as the case progresses. The units will cover all stages of the process from receipt of a police file, decision stage (whether for prosecution or no prosecution), the pre-trial and trial process and beyond the conclusion of the court case, to include any appeal and post conviction information and support.
4. Victim Support Northern Ireland is the charity supporting people affected by crime. They offer a free confidential service, whether or not a crime has been reported and regardless of how long ago the crime took place. Their services are:
- Criminal Injuries Compensation Service: People who have been injured by crime are entitled to apply for compensation from the Compensation Agency. Victim Support's Criminal Injuries Compensation Service offers a free and confidential service delivered by trained staff and volunteers. Specialist advisors also offer representation at reviews, appeals and hearings. Legal advice is not required to process a compensation claim.
- Help for Victims: Staff and volunteers offer emotional support, information and practical help to people who have suffered from any type of crime. They also offer help to relatives and friends who are affected. In addition, there is an extensive database of other services which are available to those who have experienced crime.
- Help for Witnesses: Witness Service volunteers offer emotional support and practical information to people going to court. This can include offering witnesses a chance to visit the court before giving evidence, explaining court procedures, accompanying a victim or witness into the courtroom, and offering the opportunity to talk over the case when it has ended. The Witness Service is free and confidential and is available to prosecution witnesses over the age of 18.
5. The NSPCC operates a Young Witness Service which is a free, independent and confidential service offered to children and young people who are under 18 years old, their families, friends and supporters who have to attend court as witnesses. The service is provided by a combination of social work staff, other qualified staff and trained volunteers. It aims to assist children and young people and their parents or carers before, during and after any trial so that they can give the best evidence to the court and prevent any further trauma caused by their experience.
6. All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office on 028 90526444. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715440 and your call will be returned.