CAIN: Criminal Justice Review Group, Progress Report, 15 April 1999

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Criminal Justice Review Group
Progress Report, 15 April 1999

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Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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1. The Good Friday Agreement provided for a wide-ranging Review of criminal justice in Northern Ireland. The relevant passage and terms of reference for the Review, are reproduced at Annex A. Work on the Review began on 27 June 1998. It is being taken forward by a Review Group made up of senior civil servants, representing the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General, and a number of independent assessors who are expert in criminal justice matters and who form the independent element required by the Agreement.

2. The Review is required to report to the Government by Autumn 1999 and is now more than half way through its work. The Review Group wishes to report on the progress made so far, describe what it proposes to do in the coming months, and give a flavour of the range of issues which have been raised with it.

The Consultation Process

3. From the outset, the Review Group has been committed to full consultation. On 27 August 1998 it published a consultation paper. Its purpose was to set people thinking and to stimulate discussion with the political parties, the criminal justice agencies, the wider public sector, the community and voluntary sectors and individual members of the public in Northern Ireland. The paper sets out a range of issues which the Review Group intended to consider, but made it clear that the Group would be happy to consider any other issues raised in response to the consultation paper that fell within its terms of reference. The consultation paper sought written comments, but also encouraged interested organisations and individuals to meet the Group to make their views known.

4. Over 40 written submissions to the Review have been received to date. In addition, the Group has met representatives of many of the organisations who submitted written responses, together with a number of others. The Group would particularly like to thank those organisations and individuals who have taken the time and trouble to respond, whether orally or in writing. The Group has benefited considerably from the thoughtful and constructive nature of the responses.

5. The Review Group believes that the consultation process has been successful in drawing out the views of the political parties, the criminal justice agencies, and the major voluntary organisations and lobby groups in the criminal justice field. However there is also a need to hear the views of those who work at ground level in statutory, voluntary and community organisations, practitioners, and those who perhaps work at the periphery of, or interface with the criminal justice system. As a result the Review Group has decided to hold a series of seminars across Northern Ireland to which a wide range of people from local areas will be invited.

Research and Study Programme

7. From the very beginning of the process the Review Group recognised that it should learn from experience in Northern Ireland and other jurisdictions and that it should find out the views of members of the public on criminal justice issues. To that end it put in place a programme of research to look at a range of key issues. In addition it has put in place an extensive programme of survey research and focus groups to shed light on the views and experiences of the public, on matters which have an impact on the community's confidence in the criminal justice system. The bulk of the research programme should be complete by the end of April. The Group intends to publish the output of the research programme as part of its final report. The research programme is set out at Annex B.

8. The Group decided that it should visit some other jurisdictions to see at first hand how other justice systems work, what are their strengths and weaknesses and what lessons, if any, can be learned. In recent months the Group, or small teams representing the Group, have visited Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand and the United States. Over the next few weeks study visits are planned to England and Wales, and South Africa. The visits undertaken so far have proved invaluable in teasing out the experience of other jurisdictions in delivering criminal justice and will assist the Group in assessing whether approaches adopted elsewhere might be applicable in the Northern Ireland context.

Issues Raised with the Review Group

9. A wide range of issues have been raised with the Review Group, both in the written responses it has received and in the meetings it has had with interested groups and organisations in Northern Ireland. Opinions on a number of individual issues have varied, as have the suggestions which people have made, although there is also significant common ground in some areas. A common factor has been the desire to ensure that Northern Ireland has a justice system which provides the most efficient, effective and best possible quality of justice , and which commands the confidence of all sections of the community.

10. The Review Group is still gathering and analysing information and receiving views. It has not yet reached the stage of producing conclusions or options. The following reflects some of the issues which so far have been raised with the Group (and which are within its terms of reference) in the course of its work:

  • the nature and status of any statement of values and objectives for the criminal justice system how they might relate to international human rights norms whether they should be enshrined in legislation or perhaps a charter against which the organisations in the criminal justice system would measure their performance and be held accountable the role of planning, monitoring and reporting mechanisms;
  • a range of options on the timing and extent of devolution to the New Northern Ireland Assembly of responsibility for the various criminal justice functions;
  • the possible creation of a Department of Justice to carry out many criminal justice functions, with political responsibility devolved to the New Northern Ireland Assembly whether those responsibilities might be split between two or more departments the extent to which certain functions, for example prosecution and judicial matters, should have different lines of accountability in order to safeguard their independence ;
  • arrangements for delivering such services as prisons, probation and juvenile justice their relationship with the departmental structure, whether as an integral part of it, or with services delivered through Next Steps Agency mechanisms (possibly with advisory boards), independent Boards etc the extent of links and co-ordination mechanisms between the Prison and Probation Services;
  • whether a single independent prosecution service should undertake all prosecutions, including those currently undertaken by the police, and, if so, whether such a service should take a more proactive role in supervising police investigations the possible role of the prosecution service in diverting cases away from the formal justice system at an early stage balancing the desire for accountability mechanisms with recognition of the need to safeguard the independence of the process the question of whether ultimate political responsibility for the function should lie with devolved structures or, for the time being, remain with the Attorney General based in London;
  • mechanisms for appointing the judiciary and magistracy means of ensuring transparency and openness in the process, whether through a judicial appointments commission or some other means lay involvement in the appointments machinery ideas for maximising the field from which appointments are made the merit principle safeguarding judicial independence judicial training options for lay involvement in the judicial process through lay justices or panellists where responsibility for appointments should lie;
  • services provided for court users, including victims and witnesses ensuring that procedures and ways of working do not create barriers for court users the symbols displayed the dress worn in court; ideas about the way in which courts operate;
  • arrangements for managing and operating the juvenile justice system a range of possible models including a Youth Justice Board, perhaps as a purchaser of services complaints mechanisms for children in the justice system the use of custody and the suitability of custodial provision alternatives to custody the provision of services that can reduce criminality amongst children and young people and prevent them from entering the justice system options for partnership or more integration with social and educational services for children and young people 
  •  suggestion of a Minister with special responsibility for addressing the needs of young people, including those at risk of offending;
  •  a parole board or other independent mechanism to advise on or oversee the release of prisoners;

  •  arrangements for addressing community safety, crime reduction, the causes of crime etc the need to secure the commitment and involvement of departments and agencies outside the criminal justice system where their activities can contribute to the prevention of crime the role of statutory agencies, local government, the community, the private and voluntary sectors in local service delivery and partnership arrangements   funding arrangements identifying and responding to the needs of local communities in reducing crime and dealing with its consequences involving local communities in justice issues;

  •  various models of restorative justice how the concept can be integrated into the formal criminal justice system restorative justice as part of a strategy for dealing effectively with some categories of offender while attending to the needs of victims the respective roles of the criminal justice agencies, other statutory agencies and the community acting in partnership in restorative arrangements means of safeguarding the rights of both victims and alleged offenders;

  •  compatibility of the criminal justice system with international human rights instruments mechanisms for ensuring that the criminal justice system and individual agencies are properly accountable and responsive to the public, while safeguarding the independence of key parts of the system the need for openness, well-publicised complaints procedures, customer satisfaction surveys, annual reports, broad based inspection arrangements, training of staff etc;

  •  whether criminal justice actions and decisions, and those who work within the various parts of the system, should be monitored routinely in terms of community background, gender, age, ethnicity and/or other factors and action to be taken where possible imbalances or inequities are identified;

  •  an independent Commission or other appropriate mechanism for proposing criminal and civil law reform in Northern Ireland the role in such a body for representatives of the judiciary, the legal profession, academics and lay people part or full-time members;

  •  arrangements for co-operation between criminal justice agencies, north and south the scope for such co-operation, in such areas as training, research, law reform, crime prevention strategies, and the supervision of dangerous or violent offenders in the community.

The Review Group wishes to emphasise that it retains an open mind on all the issues raised before it within its terms of reference.

11. The Review Group wishes to thank all those who have contributed to the consultation process, and would encourage any group, organisation or individual who has not done so to participate in this important debate. If you would like to submit written comments, please do so as soon as possible, and no later than Friday 28 May 1999. If you would like a copy of the consultation paper, wish to submit your comments to the Review Group, or would like any further information about the Review, please contact:

The Secretary
Criminal Justice Review Secretariat
Interpoint Centre
York Street
BT15 1AQ

telephone: 01232 258939



The participants believe that the aims of the criminal justice system are to:

  • deliver a fair and impartial system of justice to the community;
  • be responsive to the community's concerns, and encouraging community involvement where appropriate;
  • have the confidence of all parts of the community; and
  • deliver justice efficiently and effectively.

There will be a parallel [with the Independent Policing Commission] wide-ranging review of criminal justice (other than policing and those aspects of the system relating to the emergency legislation) to be carried out by the British Government through a mechanism with an independent element, in consultation with the political parties and others. The review will commence as soon as possible, will include wide consultation, and a report will be made to the Secretary of State no later than Autumn 1999. Terms of Reference are attached at Annex B.

Implementation of the recommendations arising from both reviews will be discussed with the political parties and with the Irish Government.

The participants also note that the British Government remains ready in principle, with the broad support of the political parties, and after consultation, as appropriate, with the Irish Government, in the context of ongoing implementation of the relevant recommendations, to devolve responsibility for policing and justice issues.


Terms of Reference

Taking account of the aims of the criminal justice system as set out in the Agreement, the review will address the structure, management and resourcing of publicly funded elements of the criminal justice system and will bring forward proposals for future criminal justice arrangements (other than policing and those aspects of the system relating to emergency legislation, which the Government is considering separately) covering such issues as:

  • the arrangements for making appointments to the judiciary and magistracy, and safeguards for protecting their independence;
  • the arrangements for the organisation and supervision of the prosecution process, and for safeguarding its independence;
  • measures to improve the responsiveness and accountability of, and any lay participation in the criminal justice system;
  • mechanisms for addressing law reform;
  • the scope for structured co-operation between the criminal justice agencies on both parts of the island; and
  • the structure and organisation of criminal justice functions that might be devolved to an Assembly, including the possibility of establishing a Department of Justice, while safeguarding the essential independence of many of the key functions in this area.

The Government proposes to commence the review as soon as possible, consulting with the political parties and others, including non-governmental expert organisations. The review will be completed by Autumn 1999.



The Review Group has instituted an extensive programme of literature reviews reporting between January and the end of April 1999. Each project will provide baseline information on models in other jurisdictions and provide options for consideration in the Northern Ireland context. In addition to providing a comparative overview they will focus on accountability, fairness and equity and the possible impact of different models on the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The areas being examined in this way are:-

  • Judicial appointments, training and development.
  • Prosecution processes, including examining magistrates and options for involving the prosecutor in decisions on diversionary strategies.
  • Lay involvement in adjudication.
  • Structures for delivering community safety including partnerships at governmental and local level and roles for local government.
  • Crime reduction and reducing criminality.
  • Models for a Department of Justice and securing accountability in the criminal justice system.
  • Prisons and Probation Services, and procedures for the release of prisoners, parole, etc.
  • Restorative justice.
  • Structures for advising on law reform.
  • Juvenile Justice.
  • Mechanisms for co-operating across land borders on criminal justice matters.

In addition, the Review Group has instituted projects aimed at securing information on public attitudes towards the criminal justice system. These are:-

  • A review of currently available information and analysis of currently available, but unpublished, attitudinal data.
  • Surveys to provide attitudinal data where currently there are gaps in information.
  • Focus groups to provide qualitative information on attitudes towards the criminal justice system.

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