Follow-up Review on how the criminal justice system deals with cyber crime in Northern Ireland

A Follow-Up Review by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has assessed progress in implementing inspection recommendations to improve how the criminal justice system deals with cyber crime in Northern Ireland.

Speaking today (23 November 2023) following the publication of the Follow-Up Review report, Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, said Inspectors found four of the seven recommendations had been achieved or partially achieved, with the remaining three not achieved when they returned six years after the original inspection report was published.

“Cyber crime involves the use of technology to cause harm or loss to organisations, businesses, services and individuals.  The development of technology and devices like mobile phones and computers which are in daily use to share information, to shop, bank or keep in touch with family, friends or to know what’s happening locally, nationally or globally, has increased the likelihood of every one of us becoming a victim of cyber crime,” said Ms Durkin.

“Like many crimes, cyber crime is under reported but as it becomes more complex and sophisticated, the risk to victims including financial loss and emotional damage, is growing,” she said.
The Chief Inspector said that in the intervening time since the first inspection was published in 2017, the landscape has changed and there had been a number of developments which were taken into consideration by Inspectors when gathering information and evidence during fieldwork to inform the Follow-Up Review.

This included the the development of a Strategic Framework for Action on Cyber Crime in 2018 as part of the overall United Kingdom (UK) response to cyber crime by the Department of Finance working with the Department for the Economy, the Department of Justice and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (Police Service), and the launch of the new Cyber Security Centre in 2020, to deliver against the Framework with a cross-departmental Cyber Leadership Board.

“We have also welcomed the role the Police Service and its Cyber Crime Team have had to play in addressing the wider cyber crime threat across the UK through its input to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, its 2022-23 Fraud and Cybercrime Annual Assessments and its ongoing contribution to the work of the Organised Crime Task Force in this area,” said Ms Durkin.

“These are positive steps which are helping to address the threat of cyber crime.  However, as technology and the skills of those perpetrating cyber crimes continues to grow, so must our commitment to ensuring the Police Service is resourced appropriately to effectively respond and that specialist and front-line Police Officers also have access to the necessary technology and training to keep pace with this ever-changing landscape,” she said.

At the time of Follow-Up Review fieldwork, Inspectors found that lack of progress on the strategic recommendation made by Inspectors in 2017 meant better statistical analysis and management information was still needed in 2023 to support demand modelling to meet resources to future needs.

Inspectors also identified that while the development of Cyber Support Units within the Police Service were positive and they were in the main working well, backlogs in mobile phone analysis remained an issue, with a significant number of requests not being processed within appropriate timeframes.
These and other delays in retrieving digital evidence from devices had a knock-on impact of contributing to case delay at Court.

In addition, Inspectors found the strategic position of Cyber Crime was also under review at the time of fieldwork for the Follow-Up Review.

“Cyber crime is continuing to grow in complexity and threats from it are evolving all the time.  Awareness of the scale and demands arising from cyber crime in our community and effectively responding to it, remains a challenge across the criminal justice system,” said Ms Durkin.

“It is our view that the Police Service should continue to review how services and resource capability are strategically organised, their technology keeps pace with developments and engagement with partners is further developed to effectively prevent and assist the investigation of cyber crime in Northern Ireland.

“Inspectors are also likely to return to carry out a further full inspection of cyber crime and the response to it in Northern Ireland as part of a future Inspection Programme,” said the Chief Inspector.