'Information on prosecution decisions vital to victims and witnesses,' says Inspectorate
Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has found the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS) has made 'satisfactory progress' in implementing recommendations designed to improve the level of information provided to victims and witnesses around its prosecution decisions.
The follow-up review published today (15 October 2015), found three of the seven recommendations made by the Inspectorate in 2012 had been implemented, with a further four partially achieved.
"For many victims and witnesses of crime, the incidents they become involved in can be life changing," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"It is vital the agencies and organisations of the criminal justice system and the PPS especially, provide as much information as possible to individuals on the reasons why a decision is made. This is particularly important when a prosecution decision is amended, reduced or a decision not to proceed is made."
In the three years since the initial CJI report was published, a number of changes have increased the standing of victims and witnesses.
"The introduction of the Victim and Witness Care Unit led by the PPS and staffed jointly by the PPS and Police Service of Northern Ireland, has made a significant contribution by providing a direct point of contact with victims and witnesses.
"A new European Union directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime and the development of a Victim Charter have also been beneficial," said Mr McGuigan.
Inspectors have welcomed steps taken by the PPS to ensure victims and witnesses are provided with general reasons for no prosecution decisions, but would contend detailed reasons behind no prosecution and prosecution decisions should be provided where possible as a matter of course, rather than on request.
The practice of dip sampling no prosecution decisions made in the public interest has also been supported by Inspectors who would encourage the PPS to maintain this approach long term.
Mr McGuigan continued: "We welcome the work undertaken to date but recognise that the impact of austerity will present its own challenges, in terms of balancing the rights and expectations of victims and witnesses with a proportionate response from the PPS and other criminal justice agencies.
"Getting this process right increases public confidence in the criminal justice system and ensures decisions are seen to be fair and transparent. Getting it wrong on the other hand, exposes agencies and organisations to criticism and has a negative impact on the criminal justice system as a whole.
"As we move forward, it will remain vitally important for the PPS to keep a sharp focus on maintaining high standards of care for victims and witnesses and in this context, providing timely access to information on its decisions," concluded the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice.