Commissioner: Make it easier for older people to get special court protection

It should be easier for older people to receive special court protections like the pre-recording of evidence in Northern Ireland, a report has said.

There could be a presumption in favour of such measures without them having to prove they are vulnerable or intimidated, according to Eddie Lynch, Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland.

He also called for action to reduce delays following a review of the experience of the elderly in the criminal justice system.

The report said: “The experience of going to court and giving evidence can be particularly daunting for older people.

“This research has highlighted the need for consideration to be given to the introduction of a presumption in favour of special measures for older people, as is currently the case for other categories of victims and witnesses.”

Special measures include the use of screens in court, pre-recorded evidence, giving evidence in private or the use of video-link.

The report added: “The introduction of a presumption in favour of special measures would mean that older people would not have to identity themselves as being vulnerable or intimidated and they also would not be subject to extensive scrutiny before the courts prior to accessing special measures.

“A presumption would also reduce the risk of professionals failing to identify vulnerabilities necessitating special measures.”

The commissioner’s report said it was important for courtrooms and their facilities to be accessible and allow an older person to maintain dignity when giving evidence.

“The research found that some of the facilities available in courts are lacking in this regard.

“A review of the existing court infrastructure should ensure that the needs of older people, including those with disabilities, are catered for.”

Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch (left), with Dr Kevin J Brown, Lecturer in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at Queen's University Belfast
Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch (left), with Dr Kevin J Brown, Lecturer in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at Queen’s University Belfast (Brendan Gallagher/PA)

While older people are less likely to be victims of crime in Northern Ireland, they are disproportionately more likely to be negatively impacted as a result of those crimes, the report said.

“It continues to be a source of concern that outcome rates for crimes such as burglary, criminal damage, vehicle theft and violence without injury are not as high for older people as they are for other age groups.”

The commissioner made 24 recommendations including flagging when cases involved crimes against older people.

Others included:

– An older person’s victim advocacy scheme

– Support hubs across Northern Ireland bringing together key professionals to support victims of crime

– Statutory time limits for all cases

– A review of existing court infrastructure to ensure the needs of older people, including those requiring assistance, are catered for

PSNI Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said: “We understand and acknowledge the fear of crime in our communities, particularly among those who may be more vulnerable.

“Protecting and safeguarding older people in our community is a priority for us.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to prevent and reduce the number of crimes committed against older persons and to support victims through effective investigation and by bringing offenders to justice.”

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