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Adult Safeguarding: The approach of the criminal justice system to investigating and prosecuting crimes against vulnerable adults

Adult safeguarding encompasses both activity which prevents harm from occurring in the first place and activity which protects adults at risk where harm has occurred or is likely to occur without intervention. In Northern Ireland (NI) there had been recent developments in this area which aimed to improve the approach to individuals who required safeguarding. These included a new Adult Safeguarding policy; a review of the Protocol for the Joint Investigation of Alleged and Suspected Cases of Abuse of Vulnerable Adults (‘Joint Protocol’); and work regarding victims and witnesses issues in the criminal justice system.A consultation on the draft Adult Safeguarding Strategy was held in late 2014 and there had been a review of the Protocol, with the new policy published in July 2015, for the Joint Investigation of Alleged and Suspected Cases of Abuse of Vulnerable Adults (‘Joint Protocol’). The Northern Ireland Adult Safeguarding Partnership (NIASP) was responsible for setting policy and strategy in this area although it did not have the same powers as the equivalent body for children. Similarly there was no overarching legislation that conferred specific powers in relation to adult safeguarding. This was an area which the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland (COPNI) felt needed addressing.The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had recently re-structured the organisational delivery of public protection, which included the role of the Adult Safeguarding Officer. This included realignment of the Public Protection Units to be co-terminous with Health and Social Care Trusts and plans to further professionalise the delivery of all aspects of public protection. The number of safeguarding referrals continued to rise but it was also likely that there was under-reporting of incidents. The PSNI and Social Services had recently undertaken a pilot in which incidents which did not require a criminal justice response were dealt with by social workers, in order to avoid inappropriate criminalisation of individuals.who have limited capacity. Previous CJI reports had highlighted the need for improved identification of victims and witnesses who require additional support during the criminal justice process and the PSNI had undertaken work to address this.There was a need for longer-term analysis of the level of demand for police involvement in cases where adults require safeguarding. CJI had also previously made recommendations regarding the need for improved communications with victims, including updates about the case and a recent follow-up review had made positive findings in relation to progress in this area. Avoidable delay continued to be an issue and had a particularly negative effect in this type of crime, where there could be continuing deterioration in the health or mental capacity of the victim.

The area of public protection is one which CJI have focused on for a number of years. Given the recent changes outlined above in the area of adult safeguarding and within the PSNI in particular, Inspectors believe it would be unhelpful to publish further recommendations at this time. This report therefore provides an overview of changes ongoing in the system rather than repeat recommendations made by CJI previously which are in the process of being delivered. This is an area CJI will return to in the future.