Northern Ireland

Treatment of Northern Ireland crime victims falling behind rest of UK, commissioner warns

Geraldine Hanna said Stormont needs to return to argue for funding and to provide oversight for criminal justice agencies.

Geraldine Hanna is commissioner designate for victims of crime in Northern Ireland
Geraldine Hanna is commissioner designate for victims of crime in Northern Ireland Geraldine Hanna is commissioner designate for victims of crime in Northern Ireland (Aarom McCracken)

The experience of victims of crime in Northern Ireland will fall further behind the rest of the UK while the Stormont Assembly remains suspended, commissioner Geraldine Hanna has warned.

Northern Ireland’s Victims of Crime Commissioner designate said she was frustrated with the slow pace of change within the criminal justice system and warned about chronic underfunding of key agencies.

The role was established by former justice minister Naomi Long in March 2022 to give an independent voice to all victims of crime and to make recommendations for change.

However, the Stormont Executive has been collapsed during all of Ms Hanna’s time as commissioner and departments have been dealing with significant budget shortfalls.

Ms Hanna told the PA news agency that not having a functioning Assembly was impacting criminal justice legislatively and in terms of oversight.

She said: “There is work that needs to be brought forward, hangovers from the last mandate, hate crime legislation that needs to be progressed, disclosure legislation.

“What inevitably is happening is that whenever it (the Assembly) comes back we are going to be playing catch-up in a lot of these issues.

“The other impact significantly for me of having no Assembly is that we have lost a key scrutiny body, a key level of accountability for our criminal justice agencies.

“They would be asked by the Justice Committee to give accounts of progress in certain areas and implementation of recommendations.

“The absence of that body is failing victims and the absence of the Assembly means that victims in Northern Ireland are going to be falling behind, their treatment is going to be worsened compared to those in the rest of the UK.”

The Stormont Assembly remains suspended
Stormont The Stormont Assembly remains suspended

Ms Hanna said an Assembly was vital to making the case for increased funding for criminal justice agencies.

She said: “Inevitably victims will fall further behind if there is not the funding available.

“That’s the same for all of our public services. If we can’t meet the needs of service users, Northern Ireland will be the poor relation compared to other jurisdictions in the UK.

“We need an Assembly back to be making the argument of why we need a different funding formula to increase the funding that is available.

“Stormont coming back tomorrow isn’t the magic bullet but having our political representatives holding our justice agencies to account is a strong scrutiny mechanism and we really need to be sending out the message that the treatment of victims needs to be improved and needs to be of a consistently good standard.”

Ms Hanna said she believed the current system is failing victims of crime in Northern Ireland.

She added: “We are saying all the right things when it comes to victims of crime and our support for them.

“Unfortunately I don’t believe that is translating into practice on the ground.

“There may be lots of reasons why that is but none of those are good enough.

“We make promises to victims, we encourage them to come forward to report and the very least we can do is that when they do take that brave step to report a crime to the police, the system rallies around them and ensures that they are supported.

“Unfortunately I am not seeing that happening consistently.

“I am frustrated because I meet the people impacted by this practically daily in my role and I am seeing the impact that failure is having on them and their mental health. It is not just them but also their families.

“What we are doing now is not good enough in my opinion.”