In publishing its first ever Criminal Justice Sectoral Strategy in March 2022, the Department of Justice and associated bodies signalled their intent to deliver a “joined-up criminal justice system” that works together to “deliver a safe, fair, and inclusive Ireland”.
The strategy, covering the period 2022-2024, was delivered by a partnership of the major justice organisations: the Department of Justice; An Garda Síochána; the Courts Service; the Probation Service; the Irish Prison Service; the Legal Aid Board; Forensic Science Ireland; and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The document, its foreword states, “builds upon the strong principles and foundations of collaborative working laid by the Criminal Justice Strategic Committee” since its establishment in 2015. The committee had operated on an ad hoc basis from the time of its foundation until the publication of the strategy, but the relationships of the involved parties have now been formalised with a “particular focus in this first strategy on improving the experience of those who come into contact with the criminal justice system” and how the system communicates the work it has done.
Communication, the strategy notes, is an area in which the criminal justice system discovered through consultation that could stand to improve: “The criminal justice system in Ireland can be seen as daunting, inaccessible, and is often difficult to understand for those using it. The ‘system’ does not communicate with a unified voice to victims, witnesses, suspects/people accused or convicted of a crime and does not always seem to be cohesive or efficient.”
In an effort to address these deficiencies, the strategy pledges to “improve what can be a difficult or confusing experience for people” who deal with the system and to “strengthen strategic and authentic collaboration between agencies”, including the greater use of data as a driver of system change and the improvement of workforce planning and capability.
The strategy is underpinned by five strategic pillars: strengthening strategic collaboration; improving user experience; data as a driver; building workforce capability; and increasing public understanding.
Strengthening strategic collaboration
The organisations involved pledge to “conduct our business as efficiently and effectively as possible, while minimising delays, reducing duplication of processes where possible, and enhancing public confidence” in the system.
The four principles of implementation outlined in the strategy for this pillar are: working together to address cross-cutting policy issues; driving digitisation; developing an understanding of the causes of delays and address those causes; and identifying and implementing new ways of working to increase efficiencies.
Actions included in the strategy’s implementation plan to address these issues include support for the sectoral commitment to the reduction of energy usage by all involved by 7 per cent per annum, the establishment of a cross-sectoral Information Management and Technology Working Group, the establishment of a central fund for multi-agency collaborative projects, the development of key performance indicators (KPIs) across the system, and the development of an action plan to address delays identified during the mapping process.
“The criminal justice system in Ireland can be seen as daunting, inaccessible, and is often difficult to understand for those using it.”
Criminal Justice Sectoral Strategy 2022-24
Improving the user experience
Under the pillar of improving the user experience, the organisations involved pledge to: deliver a “fair and more effective criminal justice system” for all users by streamlining the journey through the system; embed a victim-centred approach across the system; ensure support for all victims, witnesses, and accused; and strengthen the multi-agency approach to engaging with offenders.
To achieve these goals, the organisations involved, led by the Department, will map the journeys of system users to identify bottlenecks, gaps, and duplications in the process, perform a review of how information is provided on delays, court decisions, and decisions not to prosecute, and the relevant organisations have committed to implementing a “holistic high level implementation plan” that ensures the mental health and dual diagnosis needs of prison are met.
Data as a driver
The justice sector plans to streamline its approach to data collection and research in order to increase its “capacity to think systemically, and to deliver more effective policy solutions”. It pledges to support a data culture, use research analysis and data to identify new and emerging trends, and ensure better management of said data and research.
Steps to achieve these goals in the implementation plan include the establishment of a Cross Criminal Justice Data Group, the development of a three-year plan for the expansion of the Criminal Justice Operational Hub, and the regular publication of research and data accessible to the wider public in a centralised location.
Building workforce capability
To develop its workforce capability, the sector pledges to support and develop a diverse and trauma-informed workforce and to increase inter-agency understanding and support staff to “think beyond organisational boundaries”.
Actions included in the implementation plan to address these goals include the establishment of a Criminal Justice Learning and Development Working Group to conduct a training needs analysis of the workforce, the development of training programmes to address cross-sectoral issues such as victims’ rights, restorative justice and the role of adverse childhood experiences in the criminal justice system, and the establishment of a Criminal Justice Innovation Network to create a platform for the sharing of best practice.
Increasing public understanding
Under the final pillar of the strategy, the sector aims to increase public awareness and understanding of the system, develop a structured form of engagement with stakeholders, and develop consistency in communications with the public.
Steps towards achieving these goals in the implementation plan include the establishment of a Criminal Justice Communications Working Group and a Criminal Justice Consultation and Participation Network, as well as the conducting of an annual nationally representative survey to understand the public’s needs, perceptions and expectations of the system as well as any gaps that need to be addressed.