Further progress needed from Public Prosecution Service on giving reasons for its decisions
THE Public Prosecution Service (PPS) must make further progress towards more full and open engagement with all victims, insofar as might be possible within the limitations of the law.
This is the conclusion of a Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland report published today (Thursday 17 May 2012) – ‘Telling Them Why’ – An inspection of the Public Prosecution Service giving reasons for its decisions.
Deputy Chief Inspector, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland, Brendan McGuigan said; “We found that the PPS has taken important steps forward in the development of its policies and procedures regarding the giving of reasons to victims on prosecution decisions and found many examples of good practice.
“However, the inspection did find that operational practice could be improved and was not consistent across the organisation.”
The purpose of the inspection was to consider whether there were effective, appropriate guidelines and mechanisms in place surrounding the policy and practice of the Public Prosecution Service on the giving of reasons.
“Many people who enter into the justice system as victims do so for the first time. As such they often will have very little knowledge of how the system works,” said Mr. McGuigan.
“It is important therefore that the criminal justice agencies provide as much information as is reasonable to ensure that victims can understand what is happening in order to help them cope with what can be a traumatic and life changing experience. This is especially important in cases where charges are altered or withdrawn”
Under the current PPS policy the offer to meet with victims/families concerning their cases and the decisions made, are a matter for discretion in individual cases. Inspectors found there was a paucity of such offers and the report recommends that offers to meet are regularly included in a range of more serious cases.
Inspectors also found that there was no automatic communication (in PPS correspondence) of the entitlement to ask for either more detailed reasons or of a formal review of the decision, albeit a leaflet on the role of the PPS was enclosed outlining the ability to ask for a review of a decision.
“In addition, Inspectors found that current practice does not address the previous recommendations made by CJI in July 2007 that, save in exceptional circumstances, substantive reasons should be given to all victims.
“We now repeat the recommendation that more detailed reasons are provided in all cases, where possible. There must also be a move to a greater level of openness, transparency, understanding and engagement in order to further augment trust and confidence.
“Inspectors recognise that the measures recommended will require an investment of resources on the part of PPS. However, this must nonetheless be regarded as a vital element of building further trust and confidence for the future.”