Inspectorate notes progress in justice system approach to addressing sexual violence and abuse
A follow-up review of how the criminal justice system works to address sexual violence and abuse has found improvements in the working relationship between the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).
Inspectors from Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) made 12 recommendations for improvement when they looked at the issue in 2010.
"Inspectors found that seven of the original inspection recommendations were assessed as achieved; three were found to be partially achieved; and two were not achieved," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"Since the original inspection was published three years ago the importance of sexual violence and abuse and awareness of this issue has increased. It is now recognised in the Northern Ireland Executive Programme for Government 2011-15 and we have seen the opening of Northern Ireland's new Sexual Assault Referral Centre which will provide 24-hour care and support to victims/survivors and their families in the aftermath of a sexual assault."
The Chief Inspector continued: "These are positive steps which, when combined with the establishment of a pilot Victim and Witness Care Unit, Inspectors hope will result in an improved service, reduce avoidable delay and help lessen attrition rates.
"Communication between specialist prosecutors and police officers working in rape crime and child abuse investigation units had increased. Further work to investigate why the majority of rape cases are directed for no prosecution had also been conducted."
Mr McGuigan said Inspectors also found that individuals contacting the PSNI to report an incident of sexual violence or abuse were more likely to have their call forwarded appropriately following the development of more streamlined contact management arrangements.
"We welcome the establishment of a Service Level Agreement between the PSNI and PPS which governs how rape and serious sexual offences are investigated and prosecuted and how victims should be updated," said Mr McGuigan.
"The issues arising from the investigation and prosecution of sexual violence and abuse will need to continue to be a priority for the criminal justice agencies and in particular the PSNI and PPS,
"There needs to be continued focus on the reasons why cases drop out of the criminal justice process at all stages in order to increase the number of cases which ultimately result in a conviction in the court.
"The impact of the work undertaken to date can only really be assessed through a further full inspection therefore this topic will remain a priority for CJI and the Inspectorate will return to this subject in due course," concluded the Chief Inspector.