Criminal Justice System could do better for Victims and Witnesses

Kit Chivers, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland today published a report calling for action to improve services for victims and witnesses of crime.    

Commenting on the findings of a thematic review of the provision and care of victims and witnesses within the Criminal Justice system in Northern Ireland, Kit Chivers said:  

“We are all potential victims of crime and we all have a duty to play our part as witnesses when the need arises.  Victims and witnesses therefore stand for all of us.  They represent the ordinary citizen as ‘customer’ of the criminal justice system.  

“The review shows that much work is already in hand and there has been creditable progress in some fields.  But the service is patchy. Victims and witnesses are often not yet regarded as enough of a priority. 

“Most concerning was the lack of success in relation to some particularly vulnerable groups, such as ethnic minority victims.  While the agencies believed that they had gone out of their way to be helpful to these groups, the perception on the ground did not support that.”   

The findings of the report are based on individual and group interviews with all the statutory agencies and voluntary sector bodies, and most importantly with victims and witnesses themselves.    
The key recommendations of the review include:  

• the need to develop an overall strategy to deliver a seamless service to victims; 

• the need for a similar strategy for the treatment of both prosecution and defence witnesses in all the Courts; 

• the creation of a single point of contact to meet the needs of victims and witnesses at any stage of the criminal process; 

• the need to check on the working of special measures for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses;    

and, if necessary 

• the appointment of a Criminal Victims Advocate if the agencies are unable to deliver the necessary improvements in any other way. 

 “Our justice system is adversarial and inevitably puts stresses on victims and witnesses.  It tends not to be friendly to its ‘customers’.  That makes it all the more important that it should do whatever it can to make victims and witnesses feel valued and to ease the burden on them,” Kit Chivers added.