Justice Minister, Claire Sugden has launched a public consultation on a Charter setting out the entitlements, services and support that a witness to a crime should expect from the criminal justice system.
Speaking at the official opening of a new Victim Support NI Foyle Hub the Minister said:
“The criminal justice system very much depends on the honesty and, in many instances, bravery of the witnesses involved. There is no doubt that being a witness to a crime can be a challenging and stressful experience. I want to ensure that those who have to give evidence are provided with appropriate information and that the support and services that we currently provide are fit for purpose.
“Today I am launching a public consultation on a new Witness Charter, which will run until 27 September. The Charter will set out the entitlements and standards that will apply to witnesses of crime and ensure that they receive a service that is tailored to their individual needs. I would urge people to respond to this important consultation. As the Witness Charter is quite lengthy, a summary document, an easy read version and a young person’s guide have also been produced. I am particularly keen to hear the views of those who have previous experience of being a witness.”
Welcoming the launch of the consultation, Geraldine Hanna, Victim Support NI Chief Executive said: “We welcome this draft Witness Charter which sets out the standards of service that witnesses are entitled to receive as they go through the criminal justice system. I would urge as many people as possible to read and respond to this document, especially if you have ever experienced being a witness in court. It is important for people to voice their views to the Department of Justice and use this opportunity to influence change, improving the support and information available to witnesses as they try to get through the often daunting court process.”
Commenting on the launch of the consultation, Neil Anderson, NSPCC National Head of Services for Northern Ireland, said: “The publishing of the Victim Charter last year has enabled the voice of all child victims to be heard and have their rights enshrined in legislation. However, often children are witnesses to some of the most heinous of crimes and the NSPCC welcomes the launch of the Witness Charter consultation to ensure there is equity and parity for all children and that responses to the consultation reflect the views of all who have experienced crime in Northern Ireland”.
The Minister acknowledged the important support services that Victim Support NI provides. She said: “My Department provides funding of £1.8million to Victim Support NI. The support services they provide are available to all victims and prosecution witnesses of crime and are helping reduce the impact of crime on victims and witnesses in their criminal justice journey. I congratulate them on the opening of their new Foyle Hub and am confident it will allow them to continue ensuring people in the North West get the help and support they need.”
The Minister also welcomed a campaign to recruit a further cohort of Registered Intermediaries which was launched last week and encouraged those with the requisite skills, who wish to help vulnerable victims and witnesses, to apply.
Notes to editors:
1. Victim Support NI is an independent, voluntary organisation which receives £1.8m in funding from the Department of Justice to provide the following services to victims and witnesses of crime:
- The Community Service helps those affected by crime deal with its personal and practical impact, by providing emotional support, information, advocacy and advice about dealing with the different agencies within the criminal justice system.
- The Criminal Injuries Compensation Service offers assistance to applicants claiming Criminal Injuries Compensation and also assists victims make a Victim Personal Statement; and
- The Witness Service helps adult prosecution witnesses before, during and after they attend the Crown, Magistrates’ or Youth Courts. The service provides emotional support, information on the court process, and also offers a pre-trial visit, all with the aim of helping witnesses give their best evidence.
- Hate Crime Advocacy Co-ordinator supports the PSNI-funded Hate Crime Advocacy Service by providing administrative support for the service as well as personalised practical and emotional support to victims of hate crime post the PSNI investigative stage.
3. The new Charter is an action in the five-year victim and witness strategy, Making a Difference.
4. The introduction of a Witness Charter was also a key recommendation in the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the criminal justice services available to victims and witnesses of crime.
5. The draft Witness Charter explains what to expect after reporting witnessing a crime, information that will be provided and what services are available when attending court and giving evidence.The Charter also provides information on what services and measures are available to support witnesses on their journey through the criminal justice system and where to obtain further information if needed.
6. Consultation responses should be emailed
or posted to the following address by 5pm on Tuesday 27 September 2016.Victim Charter Consultation
Victims and Witnesses Branch
Department of Justice
Belfast, BT4 3SG
5. All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office 028 90526444.Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715440 and your call will be returned.
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