Greater effort needed to promote equality across criminal justice system

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has called on criminal justice organisations to place a greater emphasis on the promotion of equal opportunities among all sections of the community.

Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland urged each of the agencies in the criminal justice system to approach the task of collecting equality information with renewed vigour, following the publication today (12 May) of the Inspectorate’s latest report.
“CJI examined in detail the impact of section 75 (s.75) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 on the criminal justice system, and how each of the organisations are managing their obligations,” said Dr Maguire.
“Our findings revealed that while all agencies were aware of their responsibilities under the law, the information Inspectors examined in many cases was incomplete and only provided a limited picture of what was happening across the system.”
Section 75 he explained charged all public sector organisations, including those in the criminal justice sector, with ensuring equality and human rights are promoted in every aspect of their operation, policies and practice.
“Without the monitoring of effective, accurate and timely equality information, agencies cannot fully meet these obligations, identify any inequalities that may exist, take action to correct any disparity, or establish the reason or reasons behind it,” explained the Chief Inspector.
“The information we examined in relation to the Northern Ireland Prison Service for example,” he said, “identified a number of issues in relation to the ways in which prisoners were treated and the make up of the workforce.”
It showed that a disparity existed between the number of prisoners from a Roman Catholic background that are on the highest level of the Progressive Regimes and Earned Privileges Schemes when compared with Protestant prisoners.
It also showed the predominantly male workforce within the Prison Service’s discipline staff came from a Protestant background.
“This information has been valuable to the Prison Service and has prompted it to carry out an internal review of the available monitoring information to establish the reasons behind any disparities which exist,” stated Dr Maguire.
However without the availability of similar in-depth information on the other criminal justice agencies, Dr Maguire said organisations were unable to ensure any other as yet unidentified issues that may exist, were brought to light and addressed.
“This inspection has shown that the collation and monitoring of effective, accurate and timely equality information lies at the heart of each agency’s ability to fulfil their legal obligations in respect of section 75,” he stated.
“It is also the key to ensuring equality of opportunity and fairness of treatment among different members of the community, is at the core of the criminal justice system whether you are a defendant, victim, prisoner or witness.”
Dr Maguire concluded by stating Criminal Justice Inspection would review the progress made by each of the criminal justice agencies to implement the recommendations made in its report when it revisits the subject again in about 18 months time.