The Review of the Criminal Justice System
in Northern Ireland
The Agreement reached in Belfast on Good Friday
1998 provided for a "...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
terms of reference of the review were set out in the Agreement.
2. The Agreement was put to separate referendums
in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on 21 May 1998.
Those referendums endorsed the Agreement and, as a direct result,
the Criminal Justice Review Group was established on 27 June 1998
and began its work shortly thereafter. It reported on 30 March
2000, and the Government announced a period of six months for
consultation on the report's 294 recommendations.
3. The Review Group committed itself from
the outset to full consultation, believing that it was important
to gather and test the views of as wide a range of opinion in
Northern Ireland as possible.
4. The Review Group published a consultation
paper on 27 August 1998. Its purpose was to set people thinking.
The paper set out a range of issues which we intended to consider,
but made it clear that we would be happy to consider other issues
raised with us that fell within our terms of reference. It sought
written comments, but also encouraged interested organisations
and individuals to meet us to make their views known. The Review
Group distributed over 5,000 copies of the consultation paper
to political parties and individual politicians, the churches,
the criminal justice agencies and the judiciary, to solicitors
and barristers, and to a wide range of voluntary and community
organisations known to have an interest in criminal justice issues.
5. In the months which followed the Review
Group met representatives from the following: all of the political
parties who wished to make submissions to us; the criminal justice
agencies; the judiciary and magistracy, both professional and
lay; the Bar Council and Law Society; the major voluntary organisations
with an interest in criminal justice; and a wide range of human
rights lobby groups. In all the Review Group held over 70 meetings
with interested groups and organisations. We received over 90
written submissions, all of which were thoughtful and constructive.
6. The Review Group judged that the formal
consultation process was successful in drawing out the views of
the political parties, the criminal justice agencies, the legal
profession, and the major voluntary organisations and lobby groups
in the criminal justice field. It published a progress report
in April 1999 setting out what it had done and giving a flavour
of the issues raised with it. However, the Review Group also wanted
to hear the views of those who came from the ground level in statutory,
voluntary and community organisations, practitioners and those
working at the periphery of, or interface with, the criminal justice
system. As a result, it held a series of nine seminars across
Northern Ireland in May and June 1999 to which over 3,000 individuals,
groups and organisations were invited. The seminars provided an
opportunity for practitioners from different agencies and professions
and community groups to work together to discuss the issues which
the Review Group was considering. Around 300 people attended the
seminars, from a wide variety of backgrounds, and contributed
a great deal to the debate. The Review Group had feedback, from
those who attended, that they found the seminars very useful.
7. In addition, the Review Group put in
place an extensive programme of survey research and 24 focus groups
to shed light on the views of the public on matters which have
an impact on the community's confidence in the criminal justice
system. The output of the research was published along with the
Review Group's report.
8. The Review Group's report was almost
450 pages long and contained 294 recommendations. To assist the
consultation process which has followed publication of the report,
the Review Group produced a separate, clear and simple guide to
the report, which was published along with the main report. Both
the main report and the guide have been widely distributed in
Northern Ireland and further afield. The guide has also been reproduced
on tape, in Braille and in large type. The guide, main report
and research reports are also available on the Internet.