CJI calls for independent appeals body to examine complaints in the Criminal Justice System

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has called for consideration to be given to establishing an independent complaints appeal body to deal with complaints from all of the main criminal justice organisations except the PSNI.

The recommendation was made on the back of the findings of the Inspectorates report on the handling of complaints in the criminal justice system.
“This thematic review was carried out with the valuable assistance of representatives from the offices of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People and Regulatory and Quality Improvement Agency,” said Brendan McGuigan, Deputy Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“The review – which has been laid before Parliament – concentrated on Northern Ireland’s seven main criminal justice organisations. It looked at how complaints made about the various agencies, their work, their employees and people working on their behalf are recorded and dealt with.
“While CJI Inspectors found each organisation had its own system in place catering to the specific needs of their customers, that incorporated an external element establishing an independent body to deal with appeals regarding complaints for as many of the criminal justice agencies as possible could be beneficial in this jurisdiction,” he said.
“Methods of communication with complainants and potential complainants must be improved. Information on complaining must be communicated in a way that is easy to understand. It should be tailored to meet the needs and language style of, for example, a young person or a prisoner with a low literacy level.
“Communication should take place on a regular basis and individuals should be informed frequently of their right to complain,” added Mr McGuigan.
The Deputy Chief Inspector also stressed it was important that anyone who had lodged a complaint was regularly updated on its progress and made aware of its eventual outcome.
“1 believe an independent complaints appeal body could help address these communication issues by helping to ensure information gained as a result of the complaints process was brought to the attention of management to facilitate organisational learning and the development and improvement of policies and processes,” he continued.
Mr McGuigan said the inspection of how complaints were handled in the criminal justice system had also shown systems needed to be in place in all organisations to ensure individuals could complain in confidence.
“People outside the justice system are able to speak up without fear of reprisal but people who are subject to the justice system, are likely to be nervous about complaining, especially about those individuals who exercise a degree of control over them.
“This issue should be addressed by ensuring complaint forms are easily and directly obtained at all times. A commitment should also be given that all complaints will be dealt with in confidence where it does not already exist,” said Mr McGuigan.
The importance of the handling of complaints was highlighted in the Review of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland carried out in 2000. It described complaints handling as “an essential part of effective accountability mechanisms.”
Mr McGuigan concluded: “How complaints are dealt with is often seen as an indicator of how open an organisation is to feedback and of its attitude to developing and improving service to its customers.
“This is why each criminal justice organisation should endeavour to do everything which could further improve its complaints procedures, and why support should be given to any development that could enhance the existing systems that are in place.”