Efforts to secure attendance of witnesses and offenders at court must be maintained
The continued importance of securing the attendance of offenders and witnesses at court to enable criminal cases to proceed without delay has been highlighted in a new report published today (27 March 2014) by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI).
Inspectors first looked at court attendance in 2011 when they made six recommendations aimed at enhancing the effective and efficient operation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the Public Prosecution Service and the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) in their vital work of securing the attendance of court witnesses.
"CJI found that three of the six recommendations had been achieved and the remaining three partially achieved when Inspectors returned to look at this topic in 2013. This is a positive development, however we were disappointed much of the work to progress the inspection recommendations had only been recently undertaken," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"Inspectors were also concerned that the level of information obtained from a pilot scheme looking at the reasons for court adjournments was not sufficiently detailed to aid the NICTS to clearly identify where it should focus its efforts to reduce non attendance and the number of court cases being adjourned," he said.
Mr McGuigan said he welcomed the steps taken by the NICTS to improve the level of data available.
The review also found progress had been made to provide PPS staff with greater access to the PSNI's duty system to enable prosecutors to quickly establish the availability of police officers to attend court.
Direct access to the police duty system is expected to be expanded to all offices following the establishment of Victim and Witness Care Units jointly staffed by the PSNI and PPS.
"The development of Victim and Witness Care Units has the potential to change the experience of witnesses as cases progress through the criminal justice process," said Mr McGuigan
"Inspectors note the significant effort being put into the establishment of Victim and Witness Care Units, and would urge those involved in managing the transition to keep abreast of issues which could impact on the victim and witness satisfaction or confidence.
"The absence of witness and other relevant parties continues to cause court cases to be delayed, which in turn creates inefficiency, increases costs and impacts negatively on victims. Focus on securing the attendance of those required to enable court cases to proceed at the earliest opportunity must therefore be maintained," concluded the Chief Inspector.