Strategic goals required to support criminal justice equality work


Equality goals for the criminal justice system should be developed within the next six months according to a new report published today (27 September 2018) by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI).

James Corrigan, Deputy Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland said the objectives, which would support work to promote equality of opportunity, should be taken forward as a priority by the Criminal Justice Board which acts as a forum to bring together the key criminal justice bodies.

“Inspectors found that while there was a tremendous willingness among criminal justice organisations to meet their legal obligations and make section 75 (1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 work, understanding and embracing difference is a key challenge for the criminal justice system and for society,” said Mr Corrigan.
“The decisions made by criminal justice agencies can have powerful and far reaching consequences for victims of crime, suspects, defendants and offenders, therefore it’s important that these organisations embrace this challenge and seek to engage with different groups of people in a way that recognises their varying needs.
“Establishing strong links between the business and equality plans of each criminal justice organisation and collective equality goals for the criminal justice system, will ensure the work undertaken is this area is aligned with the equality outcomes of the draft Programme for Government. 
“This will help maintain an ongoing commitment to equality work as criminal justice organisations are faced with shrinking budgets and diminishing resources,” Mr Corrigan said.
Reflecting on the inspection findings the Deputy Chief Inspector indicated equality monitoring was an area that would benefit from further development.
“Inspectors found that while valuable information was being collected as a result of section 75, information gaps still existed around the overall performance of the criminal justice system and when outcomes for different groups of people were not adequately explained.
“Information we examined in relation to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) for example found that approximately 16% of incidents of stop and search related to young people aged 15 to 17.  This was just under four times the proportion of people of this age within the population.
“The PSNI recognised this was an area where it needed to improve its knowledge and understanding and I welcome the work that is already underway to explore this issue further,” he said.
“Similarly, we support the research being undertaken by the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) to understand the reasons why outcomes are poorer for Catholic prisoners in some areas and to develop its monitoring arrangements around the use of discretion among different groups of prisoners” he said.
The inspection also highlighted a need for greater clarity around the process employed to assess or ‘screen’ the potential impact of a policy on different section 75 groups.
“Information examined in relation to the NIPS revealed a misunderstanding at local level, whereby individual prisons believed responsibility for formal screening of policies rested with Department of Justice. This meant individual prisons had not applied a formal screening process to some policies they had developed,” he said.
The NIPS recognised the importance of this issue and were proactively taking steps to address it while the Inspection was ongoing.
In conclusion Mr Corrigan said the inspection report included four recommendations for improvement which if implemented, would assist the criminal justice agencies to strengthen how they individually and collectively approached their section 75 obligations.