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PSNI backs new commissioner for victims in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s force has backed plans to establish a Victims of Crime Commissioner Designate. PSNI said it would reduce under-reporting of violent offences.

Northern Ireland is set to get its own victims commissioner as part of work to modernise the justice system.

The Police Service for Northern Ireland said the new post is “hugely welcome” and would encourage more people, particularly women who are victims of violent crime, to report offences.

The victims’ commissioner will be similar to the role established in England and Wales to improve representation in courts and policing.

The decision by Justice Minister Naomi Long is moving quickly following a 12-week consultation.

The commissioner will promote and encourage good practice; review the adequacy and effectiveness of laws and operational practices; champion delivery of Charter entitlements and challenge, advise and make recommendations to the minister and to criminal justice agencies.

PSNI gave immediate backing to the announcement.

Acting Assistant Chief Constable for Community Safety, Melanie Jones, said: “Ensuring there is a compassionate and supportive process is of paramount importance to victims of crime.

"Not only do police have a duty of care to ensure victims do not experience any further harm by participating in the criminal justice process, but it is absolutely crucial that victims feel listened to and supported so they have the confidence to come forward and report these crimes to police.”

It is not be possible to legislate for a role with the mandate set by the minister, so to ensure the role can be introduced as quickly as possible, it will be Victims of Crime Commissioner Designate until legislation can be taken forward to make it statutory.

The minister included in the announcement a call for applicants to come forward.

The decision leaves Scotland as the last place where the rights of crime victims are not given a formal voice.

Naomi Long said: “Since becoming Minister of Justice I have made it my priority to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to put the needs and interests of victims at the centre of our justice system.

“Having listened to victims and considering the evidence presented to me, I believe that establishing a new Victims of Crime Commissioner for Northern Ireland would strengthen what we are already doing and help to put victims’ needs and interests where they should be.”

The announcement is just the latest in a series of decisions aimed at modernising Northern Ireland’s justice system after years of stagnation and under-investment.

The victims commissioner will be key to improving public confidence in the force.

Acting ACC Melanie Jones, said the force expected crime reporting by vulnerable people to increase as a result: “We know many types of crime are under reported in Northern Ireland, particularly violence against women and girls and hate crime, which is why it is incumbent on police and everyone involved in the criminal justice system to ensure the needs of victims are at the forefront of everything we do.

“Improving the experience of victims is a crucial part of the Policing Plan and we regularly report to the Northern Ireland Policing Board on our progress in this area.

"On an issue as important as this, the additional focus and advocacy that the Victims of Crime Commissioner Designate will bring is hugely welcome and we look forward to working with them to improve the services and support we give to victims of crime.”

Naomi Long said: “I expect to launch a public appointment recruitment process for this position in the coming weeks, and I would like to take this opportunity to encourage applications at that time from those who feel they can fulfil this significant role in advocating for victims.”

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