"Partnership approach to swiftly deal with public disorder will help build public confidence in justice system" says Inspectorate
A new inspection report by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has urged the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland to focus on the development of a partnership approach to address prolonged and exceptional public disorder.
The inspection published today (Friday 28 June) was carried out by CJI during February and March 2013 when preparations were underway for the G8 summit in Co. Fermanagh, and plans were being made for the forthcoming parading season as well as other significant events.
"Northern Ireland's history is littered with significant outbreaks of public disorder, and in response, policing in Northern Ireland in particular has developed significant expertise in managing the impacts of such violence. The wider criminal justice system has to varying degrees, dealt with the eventual consequences. But, there are often substantial delays between the actual events and subsequent court hearings," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"There is also an expectation that strategic planning for public disorder and other eventualities should be extensive and up-to-date so that issues such as capability, capacity and resilience are considered, together with the development of a broad range of contingency plans.
"We are now in a different era and successful public sector organisations invest heavily in developing their strategic planning capability," said the Chief Inspector.
Mr McGuigan said Inspectors had found that while significant effort and preparation was applied by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in the run up to specific events, the report highlighted a need for an effective response from the wider criminal justice system to support the rule of law.
"Public confidence in the criminal justice system's ability to deal efficiently and effectively with disorder, and quickly deal with those who seek to destabilise society, must be regarded as a central tenet of that system.
"The public must be reassured that all agencies are working together and the consequences of disorder are seen more swiftly by local communities and offenders," said the Chief Inspector.
To assist with this process, Inspectors have recommended the Criminal Justice Delivery Group supported by the Department of Justice (DoJ) should develop and lead a critical incident contingency strategy aimed at providing a coordinated and swift response across the justice system to incidents of exceptional or prolonged public disorder, which may have an adverse impact on public confidence. This kind of planning was evidently a feature of the recent G8 summit preparations and could be used as a template.
Inspectors have also recommended that as part of this effort the DoJ should produce proposals, as part of its wider work on fairer faster justice, for how matters of exceptional public interest such as widespread/serious public disorder, could be fast-tracked through the criminal justice process.
"Inspectors welcome the work recently undertaken by the PSNI to increase its operational resilience, particularly in light of the overall reduction in officer numbers as a result of the implementation of the Patten reform process.
"We would however urge the organisation to conduct a more rigorous and comprehensive strategic threat and risk assessment for public order which would include wider strategic issues such as workforce composition, finance and other demands," the Chief Inspector concluded.