Victims and witnesses deserve particular support to help them when they positively engage with the criminal justice system.
That was the message from Justice Minister Claire Sugden as she highlighted improvements to services and support for victims and witnesses of crime.
Claire Sugden said: “Good progress has been made in recent years to improve the experience of the criminal justice system for victims and witnesses of crime.
“The Registered Intermediaries Schemes, to be rolled out to all Magistrates’ Courts, has been bolstered by a further £50,000 funding. This will assist more vulnerable witnesses to give their best evidence in criminal proceedings. So far over 1,200 vulnerable people have had Registered Intermediary assistance.
“I also recognise the importance of reducing the stress placed on vulnerable and intimidated witnesses as they contribute to the criminal justice system. Therefore, I am progressing work to pilot the recording of the cross-examination of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses ahead of the trial. This special measure will be piloted in Belfast Crown Court this summer for a period of 12 months. This is a significant step forward which removes the requirement for such witnesses to attend the trial. It will also allow the criminal justice system to take account of the specific needs and vulnerabilities of such witnesses and enable them to give their best evidence.”
Highlighting the development of a Witness Charter, Claire Sugden said: “Similar to the Victim Charter that was published in January 2015, the Witness Charter will advise witnesses of the standards of care and entitlements that they can expect to receive if they witness a crime in Northern Ireland.”
The Minister concluded by adding: “While there has been much good work done to date, I know that more needs to be done to further improve the support and protections of victims and witnesses. Actions to address this will be a priority in a new three-year Victim and Witness Action Plan which I have asked officials to take forward.”
The three year Victim and Witness Action Plan (2017/18 – 2019/20) will succeed the five year Victim and Witness Strategy – Making a difference to victims and witnesses of crime – Improving access to justice, services and support.