NI: PSNI processes contributing to legacy inquest delays

Brendan McGuigan, chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland
Brendan McGuigan, chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland

An independent inspection of arrangements in place to support legacy inquests in Northern Ireland has found PSNI existing processes to be complex, convoluted and contributing to delay.

A new inspection report published by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) looks at the efficiency and effectiveness of the PSNI’s arrangements to manage and disclose information to the Coroners Service for Northern Ireland in support of legacy inquests.

Brendan McGuigan, chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, said the inspection found the PSNI was fulfilling its statutory responsibility to disclose material to the Coroners Service to support legacy inquests, but a number of factors were causing delays around case progression.

He added: “Legacy inquest proceedings have through time become adversarial rather than inquisitorial in nature.

“As a result, the processes to support the disclosure of sensitive and non-sensitive material in legacy inquests have become complex, convoluted and risk averse.

“Inspectors consider that if the Coroners legal representatives were to become more involved early on, they could help streamline the disclosure process by carrying out an early independent assessment of the information available to determine its relevance to the inquest. This could be done before material was redacted or released by the PSNI’s Legacy Support Unit.

“This approach would ensure irrelevant material was excluded from the process therefore reducing the volume of information sent to the Crown Solicitors Office for review and on to the Coroners Service.”

The report recommends the PSNI review its approach to the redaction and security classification applied to historical information which had become public knowledge in the intervening years, through unofficial routes such as books or the media.

Mr McGuigan also indicated he would welcome a review of the legislation underpinning the work of the Coroners Service.

He said: “While there is a need for legacy inquests to be appropriately resourced, providing additional resources for one link in the legacy inquest chain will only serve to create a bottleneck elsewhere. Processes need to become more straightforward and efficient if the protracted delays experienced by families are to be reduced.

“I am concerned that unless the political will to resolve the current situation becomes explicit through a combination of legislative reform, investment in IT solutions and targeted resourcing in terms of finance and staffing, the likelihood of change occurring is limited.”

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