New report examines criminal justice system approach to vulnerable older people

A new report by CJI has examined the way criminal justice organisations support vulnerable older people who had a fear of crime or who were victims of crime.
The inspection looked at people over 60 years of age who were vulnerable because of physical or mental health, thinking or reasoning ability or life circumstances and the challenges and barriers they can face when participating in and seeking criminal justice outcomes in Northern Ireland.
“This is the first time CJI has inspected this specific issue. We examined what the criminal justice organisations including the Police Service of Northern Ireland (Police Service), the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (the PPS), the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland did throughout the victim’s journey,” said Chief Inspector Jacqui Durkin.
“We identified a wide range of barriers that vulnerable older people could face, including their family situation, physical mobility issues, conditions that may affect thinking and reasoning abilities such as dementia, or life circumstances such as isolation or housing issues.
“This inspection identified the need for criminal justice organisations to respond to a vulnerable older person’s individual needs and circumstances, rather than making assumptions about individuals based on their age or perceived capacity to participate in the criminal justice system.
“Vulnerable older people who are the victim of, or witness to a crime need to be appropriately supported to give their best evidence and participate in a prosecution that is progressed with a sense of urgency.  Criminal justice organisations need to consider how they can reduce delay in the progression of cases involving vulnerable older people, so they are not prevented from giving their best evidence at later time during the case or at Court,” said the Chief Inspector, who recommended that greater use of video recorded interviews as evidence for cases involving vulnerable older people, should be considered. 
The report recognised positive work being undertaken by the Police Service with partner organisations on crime prevention and personal safety as well as innovations that recognised the impact of cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.  Inspectors were also positive about the work of Police Crime Prevention Officers in providing personal and home safety advice to older people.
It recommends that the PPS should continue to work with the Office of the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland to better reflect the needs of older people in its policies and guidance for Prosecutors.
“We know that feeling safe and being safe are not the same things and that sometimes home is not a safe place for an older vulnerable person.  In the last 13 years the number of domestic abuse crimes being reported by victims aged 60 and over has increased by 447% from 251 crimes in 2007-08 to 1,373 crimes during 2021-22.  Older vulnerable people are often reliant on those closest to them to manage their finances appropriately in their best interests and it can be very difficult for them to raise concerns about those who they should be able to trust the most,” said Ms Durkin.
“Given the rise in the reporting of these types of offences and significant levels of victim attrition in domestic abuse cases, we have recommended the PPS should include age as a criterion in its processes for ensuring cases involving domestic abuse or a domestically motivated crime are dealt with to an acceptable standard.
“Any areas for improvement identified through the monitoring of this data should be implemented and actioned,” concluded the Chief Inspector.