Victims of Crime Commissioner

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 5th October 2021.

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Photo of Órlaithí Flynn Órlaithí Flynn Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 5th October 2021

1. Ms Flynn asked the Minister of Justice when the victims of crime commissioner designate will take up office. (AQO 2511/17-22)

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

7. Mr Buckley asked the Minister of Justice for an update on the establishment of a victims of crime commissioner. (AQO 2517/17-22)

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

Mr Speaker, thank you for allowing me to defer until today. With your permission, I will answer questions 1 and 7 together.

On 21 September, I announced my intention to establish a victims of crime commissioner designate for Northern Ireland, and I intend to launch a public appointment competition for the position imminently. The victims of crime commissioner designate will fulfil a new and important role and will provide a voice for victims of crime, promote best practice and drive improvements in policies, practices and services to meet the needs of victims of crime.

This is a significant step forward. The commissioner designate will represent all victims of crime and will have a focus on the specific needs of particularly vulnerable groups of victims, including victims of domestic abuse and of hate crime. Details of the competition will be published on my Department's website in due course, and the position will be advertised through the recruitment pages of the three local newspapers. My intention is to appoint a victims of crime commissioner designate before the end of the mandate.

Photo of Órlaithí Flynn Órlaithí Flynn Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for that response. She will know that the wider impact of crime goes well beyond the criminal justice system, and, in a lot of cases, it impacts on the health and mental health of the victim. Will the victims of crime commissioner designate have any responsibility that relates to the Department of Health? Will they be able to make recommendations to the Health Minister, for example?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

Part of the purpose of setting this up as a designate office in the first instance is to work with the victims of crime commissioner to scope out the powers that may be necessary for the permanent post when we put it on a legislative footing. I would certainly be interested in feedback from victims and the postholder of the designate office as to the kind of recommendations that they may make. Whilst their main focus will be on the justice system and how victims are supported through it, in the same way as Victim Support continues to support people beyond the point at which they leave the justice system, a victims of crime commissioner will, I hope, be able to take a wider horizon and consider where better joined-up working between Departments is necessary to support victims of crime.

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

I thank the Minister for her answer and welcome her back to the Chamber. Why has the decision been taken not to place the commissioner on a statutory footing?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

There is not sufficient time in this mandate to legislate for that, and we therefore decided to proceed on the basis of a designate commissioner, with the legislation to follow in the next mandate.

Photo of Sinéad Bradley Sinéad Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the announcement of the victims of crime commissioner, albeit on a designate basis. Does the Minister anticipate that, beyond the victims issue, the commissioner designate or the commissioner will look at issues around witnesses?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

The specific purpose of the victims of crime commissioner will be to look at issues that impact directly on victims. As the Member will recognise, however, many victims are also witnesses within the justice system, and there will be a degree of overlap. For those who are witnesses to and not victims of crime or otherwise directly affected by it, there are of course other mechanisms by which they can seek support as they go through the justice system.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Member who asked question 1 referenced the wide range of issues that crime impacts on. There is also a wide range of people affected. What support is in place for the bereaved families of those killed by dangerous drivers?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

The specific issue of dangerous driving and death by dangerous driving is one in which I have taken a particular interest over the past number of years. As the Member will be aware, I have made decisions on the increased penalties that I wish to see in sentences for death by dangerous and careless driving. The Department is proceeding with those in the drafting of a sentencing Bill for the next mandate.

Many different groups support those who have suffered bereavement as a result of crime or dangerous driving. I am very much indebted to the families who have been through that trauma for their feedback to the sentencing consultation that we did earlier in the year. It was as a result of discussing with them their journey through the justice system that we arrived at our conclusions. Many of them raised issues that they had going through the court system. As a direct result of the contact that we had with those families, additional changes have been made to how sentencing is announced in the court system and the support that is necessary for families in those circumstances.