18/10/2010

Justice Bill Seeks Better Deal For Victims

For the first time in four decades, a new Justice Bill has been published in Northern Ireland.

It is 40 years since a Northern Ireland Minister last presented legislation on criminal justice measures to locally elected representatives and now the new measures propose - among other things - that offenders in Northern Ireland will have to contribute towards a fund for the victims of crime under proposals contained in the new Justice Bill.

The legislation includes provision for the introduction of an offender levy, the proceeds of which will help to raise money for victims' services.

The Bill also includes proposals to expand the use of on-the-spot fines for minor offences, such as disorderly behaviour, breaches of the peace, criminal damage and shoplifting.

It is also designed to enhance and improve community safety law.

Stormont Justice Minister David Ford of the Alliance party introduced the Bill and said it contains 108 clauses, has seven schedules and when it passes into law, will enhance services to victims through a new offender levy scheme and special measures for vulnerable victims and witnesses.

It will also seek to streamline the justice system, enhance community safety and reform Legal Aid.

David Ford said: "When I took on the post of Justice Minister just over six months ago, I set out my ambition to reshape the justice system, to build a safer Northern Ireland with lower levels of crime; safer shared communities and justice for all. This Justice Bill is an important part of that agenda."

As well as the offender levy proposal, the Bill proposes the issuing of fixed penalties fines for a range of offences and the creation of new Policing and Community Safety Partnerships to help tackle crime at a local level.

"Victims must be at the heart of the criminal justice system and for too long that has not always been the case in Northern Ireland. I want to change that.

"The proposal of an offender levy would allow for services already provided to victims to be enhanced. This is one of a range of measures I intend to take forward to ensure that victims of crime receive the appropriate support from the minute they enter the criminal justice system," the Minister continued.

"I am also determined to speed up the justice system and have included a range of proposals as alternatives to prosecution. For a limited number of offences, an offender could agree to be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice by the police.

"This is not being soft on crime. It is an appropriate measure being taken by officers in a clearly identifiable set of circumstances. It will allow officers to remain on the streets and free up the courts to deal with the more serious offences," he said.

The Minister described the introduction of the Bill into the Assembly as further evidence that devolution is working for all the people of Northern Ireland.

(BMcC/GK)

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