Victims and witnesses in Northern Ireland ‘deserve better’


CJI Chief Inspector Jacqui Durkin, has called for leadership, action and adequate resources allocated to deliver long overdue improvements in the care and treatment of victims and witnesses engaging with the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.

Ms Durkin said she welcomed the positive progress made by criminal justice organisations and the Department of Justice to implement inspection recommendations to improve services and support for victims and witnesses since 2020, but further work was needed.

“This latest Follow-Up review found three recommendations had been fully achieved, 10 were partially achieved and three were not achieved.  While work had been undertaken to progress the four strategic recommendations for improvement, none had been fully achieved at the time of the review,” said the Chief Inspector.

“It was a real disappointment to find that despite a lot of work being completed to design and agree a new operating model and better services provided in the Victim and Witness Care Unit, a lack of funding meant it could not be progressed.  This has the potential to be a real game changer in how victim and witness needs are assessed and met throughout the duration of a criminal case.  It was needed before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic further increased delays in the progress of cases through the criminal justice system and unfortunately, investment in pandemic recovery does not seem to have resulted in better victim and witness care for all cases.  The Victim and Witness Care Unit needs to be resourced to do what its name suggests – provide victim and witness care,” she said.

Ms Durkin said that Inspectors found there were many dedicated individuals doing good work who were focused on meeting the needs and improving the experience of victims and witnesses.  Their commitment would only go so far without leaders prioritising a real change in victim and witness services.

“All victims and witnesses should be able to access their Victim Charter and Witness Charter entitlements and service standards. Every victim and witness deserves human dignity and respect from everyone in the criminal justice system.  This should not be determined by the type of offence or their vulnerabilities as we know that what looks like a minor offence can be devastating and life changing for some people.  Everyone deserves to have their needs assessed and met throughout the often long duration of the case they are involved in.

“New laws and IT systems will only take the criminal justice system so far if victims don’t have the confidence to report crimes or withdraw their evidence because their dignity has been crushed and they are re-traumatised by the delay, lack of information and poor support they receive.  This undermines the rule of law and confidence in our justice system,” said the Chief Inspector.

Given its importance and the impact and cost of not prioritising and funding good victim and witness care which extends beyond the criminal justice system to individuals, families, communities, health care, employment and education, Ms Durkin said that CJI would be returning to carry out a further Follow-Up Review to assess progress and and evidence of impact on the experience of victims and witnesses.