Inspectorate publishes new report on attendance at court
The importance of securing the attendance of victims, witnesses and defendants at court to allow criminal cases to proceed without delay has been highlighted in a new report published by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (2 June 2011).
The report looked at the ways the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) worked to ensure victims, witnesses and defendants were present at court.
"The attendance of victims, witnesses and defendants in criminal cases is central to the efficient and effective operation of the courts. It is often the case that when one or more of the key individuals are not present, adjournments occur which slows the justice system down and increases costs," said Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"Inspectors found that communication could be improved and the exchange of contact information for victims and witnesses between the PSNI and PPS was not as effective as it could be," he said.
Inspectors have therefore recommended that the PSNI reinforces with officers, through training and internal communication, the need to gather more detailed contact information for victims and witnesses to enable the PPS to contact them about the case they are involved in.
Improving the PPS's access to the PSNI's computerised duty system has also been recommended as a way of helping it quickly ascertain the availability of police officers required to attend court.
"This would reduce the time and resources spent by PSNI and PPS staff in securing this information. It would also ensure the most up-to-date information available about an individual officer's shift pattern and duties can be taken into account by the court when fixing a date," said Dr Maguire.
The Chief Inspector added that providing a single point of contact at district or regional level to assist in establishing the court availability of specialist police officers and staff currently not covered by the computerised system, would improve effectiveness and efficiency in this area.
The inspection into Securing Attendance at Court also looked at ways in which the PPS could improve the training provided for staff to ensure those involved in liaising with victims and witnesses, could provide an improved level of service.
Dr Maguire concluded by recommending the PPS also review the working practices and accessibility of staff involved in contacting victims and witnesses along with the technology available to them to further improve attendance rates at court.