New Inspection Agency reports on how Northern Ireland manages sex offenders

The new agency for inspecting the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland today published its first report, ‘The Management of Sex Offenders in Northern Ireland.’  

The inspection had three main aims:

  1. Examine the effectiveness of Northern Ireland’s inter-agency offender  management  procedure (known as ‘MASRAM’) so far; 
  2. Compare MASRAM with the Multi-agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) that apply in England and Wales; 
  3. Consider the potential for placing MASRAM on a statutory footing, and for extending MASRAM to incorporate violent offenders.  

The inspection team found many positive features of the current system: 


(i) The agencies attach high priority to their sex offender work, despite it being a small proportion of caseloads.  Public protection was unambiguously identified as the central purpose;


(ii) All the agencies work hard at MASRAM, and they work well together. Both the PSNI and Probation Service have dedicated MASRAM staff, who are highly skilled and motivated; 


(iii) Inspectors saw some excellent examples of collaborative working, especially with high risk offenders in crisis situations.  


Recommendations for improvement  are made to build on these positive foundations and address a number of issues, including the fact that the MASRAM arrangements are overloaded.  Key recommendations include: 


1. MASRAM should be placed on a statutory footing.  The Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the English MAPPA guidance should be used as a basis for this. (Para 2.17)  


2. The remit of MASRAM should extend to include violent offenders.  This will require clear criteria, and a supervised parole system should be introduced to fulfil this purpose. (Paras 2.5; 3.19)  


3. To create more capacity the MASRAM agencies should manage cases at the lowest possible level consistent with providing a defensible risk management plan. (Para 1.13)  


4. The agencies should establish a co-located Public Protection Team, drawing upon best practice elsewhere. (Paras 3.20-3.22)  


Kit Chivers, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, commented: 


“In carrying out this inspection, we were conscious of the level of public concern about the risk that sex offenders pose.  Apart from England and Wales, Northern Ireland is the only country to have such sophisticated inter-agency arrangements for protecting the public. The report recognises the excellent work being done, but identifies a range of areas for future development.  I hope it will be of value in informing and re-assuring the public, and helpful to the managers and staff who are involved in this challenging area of work.”