Chief Inspector urges continuing progress on Without Witness inspection report recommendations

CJI Chief Inspector Jacqui Durkin has welcomed work by police, prosecutors and the Department of Justice to progress inspection recommendations made in the 2018 Without Witness inspection to improve the criminal justice system’s handling of sexual violence and abuse cases in Northern Ireland.
Ms Durkin said work to date to achieve two recommendations and partially achieve a further four recommendations was positive, but she urged criminal justice organisations to focus on implementing all accepted recommendations including those still to be progressed, to secure better outcomes for vulnerable victims and witnesses of sexual offences.
“Sexual violence and abuse crimes are some of the most traumatic and life changing in our criminal justice system.  In 2019-20, 3,558 sexual offences were recorded by the police,” said Ms Durkin.
“When we returned to assess progress against the recommendations made in 2018 Inspectors found better partnerships were in place between the PSNI and the PPS and more Police Officers and Prosecutors were working on sexual offences cases in order to improve the response to these crimes.  Improvements were also found in the use of digital technology to enable the electronic transfer of evidence to support prosecution decisions and court cases.
“We also welcome the draft legislation being scrutinised by the Northern Ireland Assembly to reform how cases are transferred from the Magistrates’ Court to the Crown Court for trial.  This would allow earlier oversight by a Crown Court Judge and victims of sexual offences will not be further traumatised by having to give their evidence in a court twice,” said the Chief Inspector.
However, Ms Durkin said she hoped work to enable jury directions to be given in sexual offences that had been paused would be progressed at the earliest opportunity.  She also urged the PPS would expand its requirement for Prosecutors to appropriately record the rationale for their decision making to cases heard in Magistrates’ as well as the Crown Court, in keeping with the original inspection recommendation.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately stalled or delayed action in relation to some inspection recommendations and created a backlog and further delays in a criminal justice system where victims of sexual offences may have to wait two or three years for a trial to commence,” she said.
“It is important that despite the challenges the last year has brought, criminal justice organisations continue to progress work to implement all accepted recommendations so victims and witnesses of sexual offences, including those still to report sexual crimes, benefit from the improvements aimed at addressing the issues identified in the Without Witness report,” said Ms Durkin.