Extension to Northern Ireland sexual offence legal advice pilot

Extension to Northern Ireland sexual offence legal advice pilot

Naomi Long

A pilot scheme providing free independent legal advice to complainants in serious sexual offence cases in Northern Ireland has been extended for a further year until March 2025.

The Department of Justice launched the pilot scheme in April 2021, less than a year before the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive, which was restored this month.

More than 1,600 people have received free legal advice up to the point of trial through the scheme since it was launched, according to justice minister Naomi Long.

“Extending the support to victims through the criminal justice process helps them understand their rights and make informed decisions about their case,” Mrs Long said.

The one-year funding extension has been welcomed by Janice Bunting, CEO of Victim Support NI, the lead agency providing practical and emotional support to victims and witnesses in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Long confirmed the funding extension during a visit to the recently-opened Belfast remote evidence centre, which allows vulnerable or intimidated victims and witnesses to provide their evidence to the court using live link video technology.

Belfast Remote Evidence Centre is supported by Victim Support NI in respect of adults and NSPCC’s Young Witness Service in respect of children.

Mrs Long said: “It is encouraging to see further progress being made on the Gillen recommendations with the provision of Belfast remote evidence centre, which is already improving outcomes for victims and witnesses of crime.

“As justice minister I want to continue to prioritise those areas which can have the greatest impact on complainants going through the criminal justice system.”

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