Witness Charter would help vulnerable and intimidated witnesses
NORTHERN Ireland needs a Witness Charter, following a report of the use of special measures in the criminal justice system by the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI).
CJI at the request of the Department of the Justice, undertook a formal inspection into the use of special measures and its effectiveness in achieving best outcomes for witnesses.
Deputy Chief Inspector, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland, Brendan McGuigan said, “It is widely accepted that many people who are the victims of, or witnesses to crimes, find the criminal justice process stressful and fear-inducing. Special measures are of vital importance in helping vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to give their best evidence.
“Inspectors heard positive feedback from victims and witnesses about the assistance they received and the impact it had on preparing them for giving evidence in court. Such assistance was found to be invaluable.
“The inspection found many of the issues surrounding special measures had already been identified by the Departmental working group and work-streams had been commenced to address these. Consequently, the findings and recommendations of Inspectors broadly underpin, support and reinforce that good work.”
However, it was noted in the inspection that there were difficulties with the identification of Vulnerable and Intimidated Witnesses. This can result from a number of factors. Because of this it is very likely that significant proportions of Vulnerable and Intimidated Witnesses are currently being excluded from the use of special measures.
“The consequences of the failure to identify the witness as being vulnerable or intimidated can be potentially stark. The criminal justice system needs to re-double its efforts to ensure a proper identification of VIWs from the outset,” continued Mr McGuigan. “All of this needs to be underpinned by training and awareness raising efforts.
In addition to proper identification of vulnerability the inspection also categorised two other key areas requiring priority attention by the criminal justice agencies as individual needs assessments and improved communication.
“A key recommendation, the Witness Charter, will provide clear, coherent and transparent information for witnesses on what to expect from the criminal justice system;codifying the commitments of the
criminal justice system to witnesses; andproviding a readily accessible document which will assist both witnesses and
criminal justice system professionals.”