The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement reached in 1998 provided for a ‘wide ranging review of criminal justice (other than policing and those aspects of the system relating to emergency legislation) to be carried out by the British Government through a mechanism with an independent element, in consultation with the political parties and others.’
The Criminal Justice Review which reported in 2000 noted ‘the importance of inspection as a tool for holding criminal justice agencies to account for their actions and the proper expenditure of public resources.’
It also ‘noted the views it heard in the course of the consultation process in relation to inspection. All those who commented on the issue believed that inspection of criminal justice functions was both necessary and desirable. There was some disagreement over whether individual agencies should have their own inspection arrangements or whether there should be a single, all embracing and independent criminal justice inspectorate.’
The review concluded that in the political and institutional context of Northern Ireland envisaged by the Belfast Agreement, the balance of arguments favoured the creation of a single, independent criminal justice inspectorate.
What responsibilities does CJI have?
It is responsible for ensuring the inspection of all aspects of the criminal justice system under the statutory basis which it was established. The courts were initially excluded from CJI’s remit but legislation was amended in 2007 to give CJI responsibility for inspecting the Northern Ireland Court Service. A number of other organisations have also been added to the Inspectorate’s remit since it was set up. A full list of the organisations and agencies CJI is responsible for inspecting can be found in the About Us section of this website.
CJI must, according to the Criminal Justice Review of 2000, present its inspection reports to the Minister for Criminal Justice, the responsible Minister (if the inspected agency is the responsibility of another Minister) and the relevant departmental committee or standing committee.
It must also publish its reports and make them widely and readily available and must also publish an Annual Report of its activities. This report must also be presented to the Minister for Criminal Justice and be laid before the relevant departmental and standing committees.
Criminal Justice Inspection also has a responsibility for advising Ministers on standards within Northern Ireland’s criminal justice agencies, though standard setting remains the perogative of Ministers.
It is charged with employing a range of full and part-time Inspectors and securing supplementary expertise as appropriate from other inspection agencies in England, Scotland and Wales as appropriate, such as HM Inspector of Prisons and HM Inspector of Constabulary.
CJI has responsibility for determining its own programme of inspection in consultation with the relevant Ministers. This programme should consist of a range of inspections including periodic, cyclical and unannounced inspections of systems and structures in place within Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system.
In addition, the Inspectorate has a duty to carry out thematic based inspections that may require additional expertise and/or special skills.
It must work closely with other Inspectorates as appropriate, for example on issues of health and safety, mental health or social services, and with professional bodies such as the Royal College of Pathologists and academics from various universities such as the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow).the Policy Advisory Board for Forensic Pathology.