A Policy for Countering Intimidation on Court and Tribunal Premises

Contents

Introduction
Policy Statement
Policy Aims
Measures Already In Place
Jury Service
Victims and Witnesses
Interpreters
Dealing With Incidents of Intimidation
The Way Forward


COUNTERING INTIMIDATION ON COURT AND TRIBUNAL PREMISES

Introduction

This paper sets out the policy of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) in respect of countering intimidation of witnesses, victims, jurors, those who work in the justice and legal sectors, professionals including health and social services personnel, interpreters and registered intermediaries, and other members of the public attending courts and tribunals.

This policy was originally produced in 2002 in consultation with the Police Service of Northern Ireland following the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Review which was published in March 2000. In the intervening years, many inspections, reports, strategies and policies have been produced leading to a combined effort by the criminal justice agencies to work on improving services for members of the public coming into contact with the justice system. Devolution of justice and policing powers in April 2010 has provided an additional opportunity to re-assess and reform policies affecting court users.

The original policy was produced before responsibility for most of the tribunals was transferred to NICTS. However, intimidation can be a factor in all types of court or tribunal hearings and this policy is extended to all criminal, civil, family and coroners’ courts and to the tribunal venues. The principles here and much of the guidance may also be applied to the Enforcement of Judgments Office and the Court Funds Office.

This revision takes account of developments affecting court and tribunal users and focuses on measures introduced by NICTS to make the experience of customers better. It seeks to secure an environment where intimidation is not tolerated but provides a structure for dealing effectively with incidents of intimidation if they do occur.

NICTS is committed to contributing to a justice system which encourages active participation by all who have a role to play.

Policy Statement

1.1    NICTS is committed to ensuring the safety of all court and tribunal users and to eliminating the causes and potential causes of intimidation on our premises.

Policy Aims

1.2    The policy aims to ensure that:

Measures Already In Place

2.1    NICTS recognises the importance of creating an environment in which court and tribunal users feel comfortable and has made improvements over the past number of years to try to increase the quality of customer care provided.

2.2    As part of NICTS commitment to continuous service improvement the agency sought and received the government standard for excellence in customer service (CSE). This standard was obtained in 2009 for 21 courthouses1 and NICTS is assessed on an annual basis to ensure that this high level is maintained and improved upon. A requirement of this standard is that NICTS continuously assesses the standard of service provided to customers and takes steps to improve where necessary. NICTS publishes the standards of service that court users may expect to receive; these are available on the NICTS website at this link:
http://www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-GB/Services/CustomerService/ServiceStandards/Pages/GeneralStandards.aspx

2.3    Customer Service Officers are available at all court and tribunal venues and they will be pleased to discuss any concerns that those attending court may have including the possibility of intimidation.

2.4    NICTS operates a published complaints procedure and is committed to ensuring that any complaints received from court users are responded to promptly in line with this procedure. This is also available on the NICTS website:
http://www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-GB/AboutUs/MakingAComplaint/compliants_NICTS/Pages/default.aspx

2.5    Information leaflets are available in English and other languages for each court venue detailing the location and public transport options, the various services available at each building and what to do if there are any special requirements. Customer Service Newsletters are published quarterly and in various languages for each court Division and for the tribunals detailing local initiatives, performance against standards, complaints, contact details and outreach activities. This information may be accessed on the NICTS website (www.courtsni.gov.uk).

3.1    Jury Service

A number of sources of information for jurors are available including:

3.2    Additionally, NICTS has produced a video that is shown to all potential jurors at the commencement of their term of jury service. Intimidation of jurors is addressed within that information video as follows:

“The Courts [and Tribunals] Service is committed to ensuring the safety of all court users and to eliminating the causes and potential causes of intimidation on court premises.  In some cases, you may be asked to sit out of sight of the public gallery, or other security measures may be employed in or outside of the courtroom.

These measures are specifically designed to afford each juror protection from the risk of intimidation allowing you to effectively carry out your jury service.  Jurors should note that it is extremely rare for such security measures to be employed; however, jurors should not be alarmed if their case is one with increased security arrangements.

If you need help please tell the jury keepers immediately.

If an attempt is made to intimidate you outside court premises you should make this known to a member of court staff as soon as possible.”

4.1    Victims and Witnesses

Guidance and information for victims and witnesses attending court is also available;

The Victim and Witness Policy sets out NICTS commitments regarding the services and facilities for victims and witnesses at court. NICTS has other policies in place to help make the experience for witnesses less intimidating, such as dedicated waiting areas in courthouses to help minimise the risk of the victim or witness coming into contact with the defendant and the possibility of coming to view the court before evidence is due to be given.

4.2    NICTS has a special arrangement with Victim Support’s and NSPCC’s witness services who provide one-to-one support for witnesses at all stages of the criminal justice process including at the courthouse. A similar partnership arrangement exists with Women’s Aid who offer support to women who have experienced domestic violence. NICTS will co-operate fully with these court support teams to assist any witness who is particularly fearful of attending court because of the possibility of intimidation, by, for example, arranging a separate entrance if available and any other measure to try to ensure that no contact with the defendant takes place while attending court.

4.3    There are also particular arrangements available for intimidated witnesses giving evidence in court, called special measures. Intimidated witnesses are those whose quality of testimony is likely to be diminished by reason of fear or distress at the prospect of giving evidence. Victims in cases of sexual assault are defined as falling into this category. Other witnesses who may be considered to be intimidated include:

4.4    Young and vulnerable witnesses giving evidence at Londonderry courthouse and Laganside Courts may give their evidence remotely from the NSPCC’s premises in Londonderry or the Old Town Hall Building in Belfast. They are therefore not required to enter the court and the risk of encountering the defendant or their supporters is greatly reduced.

4.5    Any risk of intimidation should be identified by police or prosecution in advance of the case coming to court so that appropriate action can be taken to assist the witness. An application must be made to the court for special measures in advance of the date that the intimidated witness is due to attend. The measures that may be applied for in order to assist intimidated witnesses include giving evidence to the court by remote video link, screening in the courtroom so that the witness cannot see the defendant and vice versa, giving evidence in private or having their evidence pre-recorded on video.

4.6    NICTS recognises that in some cases defence witnesses may also be in fear of intimidation at court. Defence lawyers will report any actual or feared intimidation to the police, providing this does not conflict with their professional rules. In those circumstances defence witnesses should contact the police.

5.1    Interpreters

Following some incidents of intimidation of court appointed interpreters, measures were implemented to give specific protection to them. If the victim/witness waiting room is not being used, an interpreter may wait in that room or another available room if they are feeling threatened or intimidated. Also, allegations of intimidation are to be notified to the Court Administrator or Business Manager and an incident report sent to the Head of Division. NICTS Communications Team should also be notified as soon as possible. Connect-NICEM and Action on Hearing Loss2 have been advised that any interpreter who is threatened or intimidated at court or at a tribunal hearing should immediately notify NICTS or security staff. The procedures for dealing with this as set out at 6.2 below will then be instigated.

Dealing With Incidents of Intimidation

6.1    It is a criminal offence for a person to intimidate or threat to intimidate another person where he knows or believes that other person is, or may be, a witness in any relevant proceedings, with the intention of perverting, obstructing or interfering with the course of justice. NICTS takes any reported incidents of intimidation on court or tribunal premises, regardless of whether the intimidated person is a witness, juror or anyone else who is present at court or at a tribunal, extremely seriously and will report all incidents of intimidation on NICTS premises to the police.

6.2    The procedure for dealing with occurrences of intimidation is set out below:

6.3    NICTS will ensure that security personnel are available in all court premises.  This will include, where appropriate, officers of the Police Service for Northern Ireland. In cases where a particular risk of intimidation or animosity between parties creating a safety risk has been identified, PSNI will work closely with NICTS to ensure that appropriate measures are in place at the court.

6.4    NICTS has procedures in place for reporting non-routine incidents taking place on our premises. These are classified as either security or non-security incidents, and intimidation is included and defined as a security incident. NICTS staff are aware of the requirement to report incidents and clear guidance is available3. Within the completed incident report the reporting officer must specify the incident type, a brief outline of the incident including any actions taken locally to reduce the impact and to reduce the risk of a re-occurrence, a consideration of the potential consequences and recommended follow-up actions. The completed report is forwarded through to the Head of Division and consideration taken of whether the incident requires escalation to the Chief Executive and the Minister.

6.5    The Assistant Departmental Security Officer (ADSO) will ensure that local risk assessments are reviewed if necessary as a result of investigations. They will also assess the need to advise colleagues in other business areas (eg Contracts or Estates Branches) who also have a role in security management and provision.

The Way Forward

7.1    NICTS will continue to monitor security provisions, review procedures, develop strategies and put in place measures to improve the quality of service to all members of the public including jurors, victims and witnesses, and other groups of court users.

7.2    NICTS is working with the judiciary, stakeholders and partners to try to increase the use of remote link facilities for young and vulnerable witnesses. This will mean that more witnesses who are intimidated or vulnerable will not have to attend court at all in order to give evidence and that they can do so remotely from a non-court venue with adequate support and family members close at hand.

7.3    NICTS will continue to work together with other justice organisations to try to improve and extend the services available for victims and witnesses. This will include working with the Victim and Witness Care Units4 to ensure that victims and witnesses who are in fear of intimidation are given an appropriate level of support at court. 

7.4    NICTS will review this policy every five years taking into account legislative and other changes and seek to continuously improve the services it provides to all court and tribunal users.

7.5    Any comments on the content of this policy should be addressed to:

Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service
Central Business Unit
4th Floor, Laganside House
23-27 Oxford Street
Belfast BT1 3LA

1 There are plans for tribunals to be included in future applications for the Customer Service Excellence standard.

2 Connect-NICEM and Action on Hearing Loss are the contracted service providers of foreign language and hearing loss interpreters for the criminal justice agencies in Northern Ireland.

3 Incident Reporting Guidelines, published 11 May 2012 by Estates Branch, NICTS

4 The Victim and Witness Care Unit pilot was launched in November 2012 at Belfast Magistrates Court. It is staffed and run jointly by PPS and PSNI and it is planned to develop the pilot further to include all criminal adult and youth courts at a later stage. 


Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service
Laganside House
23-27 Oxford Street
Belfast
BT1 3LA
www.courtsni.gov.uk