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Victim and Witness Annual Action Plan 2011-12

Ministerial Foreword
Since my appointment as Justice Minister last year, I am happy to report that there have been a number of positive developments to improve the experiences of victims and witnesses of crime of the criminal justice system. In May 2010 I published two guides to the criminal justice system, one for victims and witnesses of crime and the other for bereaved families and friends following murder or manslaughter. I also made improvements to the special measures provisions in the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 to assist vulnerable and intimidated witnesses give their best possible evidence in criminal proceedings. And in March 2011 I published a Code of Practice for Victims of Crime which sets out the minimum standard that victims can expect from the criminal justice system. However, I recognise that more needs to be done and the actions set out in this latest Annual Action Plan will go some way to achieve that. Steps will be taken to keep victims better informed about their case; ways to ensure that all those who are eligible to be considered for special measures assistance will be examined; and there is a commitment to consult on victim impact statements to ensure that victims have the most effective way of expressing the impact that the crime had on them in court. A new strategy will also be developed this year to succeed the current Bridging the Gap strategy when it ends on 31 March 2012. I would encourage everyone to contribute to its development either during the public consultation later this year or by sending your views to: Delivery Improvement Unit Department of Justice Massey House Stormont Estate Belfast BT4 3SX Tel: 028 9052 7259 Text phone: 028 9052 7668 E-mail: JPD.Public@dojni.x.gsi.gov.uk Fax: 028 9052 7507

Finally, I again welcome the interest of the Justice Committee in this important area of work and commit to working constructively with them on taking this programme of work forward.

David Ford

Introduction
This is the last Annual Action Plan (the Plan) associated with the delivery of Bridging the Gap, the five-year strategy, which was launched in 2007, to improve criminal justice services to victims and witnesses of crime in Northern Ireland.

Aim
The Plans overarching aim is to improve services to victims and witnesses and to increase overall satisfaction levels with those services.

Structure
The Plan aims to more effectively meet the needs of victims and witnesses through the development of enhanced services in five key areas: improving access to information; keeping victims and witnesses informed; providing a quality service; supporting individual needs; and listening to victims and witnesses.

Delivery
The Plan will be delivered by the Victim and Witness Steering Group (VWSG), which includes representatives from the Department of Justice, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Public Prosecution Service, the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, the Northern Ireland Prison Service, the Probation Service for Northern Ireland and the Youth Justice Agency. It also includes the voluntary organisations Victim Support Northern Ireland and the NSPCC. The responsibility for each area of work included in the Plan has been allocated to the organisations represented on the VWSG. They will take the lead and work with other organisations as necessary. The VWSG will meet bi-monthly to review progress against each of the actions and will report to the Minister through the Criminal Justice Board.

Conclusion
The VWSG is committed to enhancing the criminal justice systems responsiveness to the needs of victims and witnesses of crime. It seeks to do this by improving the quality of services in a coordinated manner, which both improves victims and witnesses experience of engagement with the criminal justice system and delivers better outcomes for victims and witnesses and for the justice process. This Plan, which is the final plan of the current strategy, represents a substantial programme of work to further improve services for victims and witnesses by driving up performance across the criminal justice system.

Annual Action Plan 2011-12


Action DOJ PPS NICTS PSNI PPS PSNI/NICTS/VSNI/ NSPCC Lead Organisation Supporting Organisations Victim and Witness Steering Group (VWSG)

Key Area

1. Improving access to information

1. To explore new and available technologies to provide enhanced victim information by March 2012.

2. To finalise the revision of the PPS Victims and Witnesses Policy by December 2011.

3. To review NICTS Customer Standards and other sources of information for victims by December 2011.

2. Keeping victims and witnesses informed

1. To complete the roll out of the PSNI automated system of victim updates as expeditiously as possible.

2. To consider the findings from the review of the management of and support for victims and witnesses who are called to the Crown Court to give evidence, and agree the way forward and produce an action plan by December 2011.

3. To finalise the revision of PPS victim and witness correspondence, consult with key stakeholders and implement recommendations by October 2011.

PPS

VSNI/NSPCC

4. To assess the feasibility of merging the Prisoner Release, Probation and Mentally Disordered Offenders victim information schemes by March 2012.

PBNI

DOJ/PSNI/NIPS

5. To develop a model for Witness Care Units and agree way forward by 31 March 2012.

DOJ

PSNI/PPS/NICTS/ VSNI/NSPCC

Annual Action Plan 2011-12


Action DOJ VWSG Lead Organisation Supporting Organisations

Key Area

3. Providing a quality service DOJ

1.

To publish a new strategy to ensure the ongoing strategic delivery of improved services to victims and witnesses by March 2012.

2.

To monitor the implementation of the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, place it on a statutory footing and commence a 12-month review of its content in March 2012. DOJ

VWSG

3.

To monitor feedback and complaints regarding the standards set out in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime on a quarterly basis and to consider how to address themes emerging on service delivery.

VWSG

4.

To review feedback from the Policing Commitments and the PSNI PSNI User Satisfaction Survey during the course of the year and consider how to address any emerging victims themes. DOJ VWSG

5.

To continue to raise awareness with the judiciary and defence counsel of the damaging impact of inappropriate cross-examination.

Annual Action Plan 2011-12


Action DOJ VWSG Lead Organisation Supporting Organisations

Key Area

6.

To consider the recommendations in the Criminal Justice Inspection report following its Thematic Inspection on Improving the Provision of Care for Victims and Witnesses within the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland and produce an action plan to accompany the reports publication. DOJ

7.

To consider the recommendations in the QUB/NSPCC report following their research on the experiences of young witnesses in criminal proceedings in Northern Ireland and agree the way forward within three months of the reports publication. DOJ

VWSG

8.

To contribute to the development of EU Directives relating to victims during the course of the year and plan for their implementation.

EU Victims Directives subgroup/VSNI PPS

9.

To review and revise PPS standard instructions to Counsel by November 2011 to ensure victims and witnesses needs are addressed.

10. To provide training on the avoidance of re-victimisation to relevant PPS business areas and Panel Counsel by February 2012.

PPS

VSNI

Annual Action Plan 2011-12


Action DOJ Lead Organisation Supporting Organisations Vulnerable and Intimidated Witness Working Group (VIWWG) VIWWG

Key Area

4. Supporting individual needs

1.

To prepare for, commence and implement the vulnerable and intimidated witness provisions in the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 by December 2011.

2.

To address the practical issues identified during the review of the operation of special measures by March 2012. DOJ

DOJ

3.

To have an implementation plan in place by September 2011 for the provision of an Intermediaries Service to help vulnerable witnesses.

VIWWG

4.

To review the Achieving Best Evidence practitioner guidance by December 2011.

DOJ

VIWWG

5.

To evaluate the pilot to reduce waiting times for victims and witnesses while at court by March 2012.

NICTS

PPS/VSNI/NSPCC

6.

To consider the way forward for the provision of remote link facilities by December 2011.

NICTS

DOJ/PSNI/PPS/ NICTS/VSNI/NSPCC NICTS PSNI/PPS/VSNI/ NSPCC

7.

To consider the need for further actions to address the principal victim and witness concerns about court attendance by March 2012.

Annual Action Plan 2011-12


Action YJA Lead Organisation Supporting Organisations

Key Area

8.

To review the impact of the Youth Conference process on victims by March 2012. PPS

9.

To consider the introduction of a system to refer witnesses called to the Crown Court from the PPS to the witness services by October 2011. NSPCC

Witness Services Steering Group

10. To roll out the Young Witness Service into all magistrates and youth courts by September 2011. DOJ

PSNI/VSNI/NSPCC

5. Listening to victims and witnesses

1.

To take forward work to formalise practice regarding victim impact reports and victim impact statements and publish a consultation document by December 2011.

PSNI/PPS/NICTS/ PBNI/VSNI/NSPCC

2.

To conduct a feasibility study to determine the applicability of the introduction of community impact assessments in the criminal justice process by June 2011.

DOJ

VWSG

3.

To develop guidance to explain restorative interventions to victims by November 2011.

PBNI

YJA/VSNI

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