Director of Public Prosecutions welcomes formal opening of the new Belfast Remote Evidence Centre

Publication date:

Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan, DoJ Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly, Janice Bunting from Victim Support NI, The Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron and Bronagh Muldoon from NSPCC at the launch of the new Remote Evidence Centre

The Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron today joined criminal justice partners at the official opening of the new Belfast Remote Evidence Centre. The Department of Justice led facility allows vulnerable or intimidated victims and witnesses who are granted Special Measures to give their evidence away from court during a trial or other court proceedings.

The centre was officially opened by the Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan and the Director attended the special event with partners including Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary, Department of Justice, and Janice Bunting, CEO of Victim Support NI Northern Ireland.

Mr Herron said: “We are pleased to contribute to the opening of this bespoke centre in the centre of Belfast. The Public Prosecution Service has worked with our criminal justice partners to provide this secure yet welcoming centre, which is helping vulnerable witnesses, including children and those involved in sexual offences cases, to give their best evidence without having to attend a more formal court building.”

The official opening follows a successful pilot phase with the new permanent Belfast facility located in a more central and accessible location for victims and witnesses. Another centre is based at Craigavon.

Mr Herron continued: “The first phase of this pilot has demonstrated how vulnerable witnesses who need the special measure of a live link benefit significantly from knowing that they will not have to set foot in a courthouse to give evidence for the prosecution. Put simply, without witnesses giving evidence, we would often be unable to prosecute offending and bring offenders to justice.

“We understand that for most victims the very prospect of entering a courtroom to give evidence against the perpetrator of offences against them can be deeply traumatic. Reducing a witness’s concerns about attending court or coming face to face with the offender and their supporters can reduce further traumatisation and make what is an already uncomfortable process somewhat easier.

“The Gillen Review noted that 48% of victims worried about coming into contact with the defendant and their supporters, and some felt afraid that they may encounter intimidating behaviour from these individuals. That statistic underscores the importance of this facility.   

“This first-class centre provides a comfortable, safe space for those giving evidence who may not be able to give their best quality evidence, or any evidence at all, if required to attend a traditional court building.  We hope it will also improve their experience of the criminal justice system more generally.”

To support the new facilities, the PPS has implemented measures, including system updates and guidance for all prosecutors, to ensure that witness referrals to Remote Evidence Centres become standard practice for all eligible witnesses appearing before Belfast and Craigavon courts.

Mr Herron added: “The opening of this new centre and the addition of another link facility at the Craigavon Remote Evidence Centre are key steps towards rolling out changes to all court areas.

“Knowing that special measures have been granted early in a case, and that the remote facility is to be used, will provide immense relief and can help such victims and witnesses to stay with the prosecution process.  We hope it will help reduce the number of witnesses withdrawing from the process. A fair trial and positive justice outcomes require presentation to the court of coherent, complete and reliable evidence, and this centre will play a role in achieving that aim.”

Mr Herron underlined the importance of all partners getting behind the new practices. 

“If a witness can benefit from giving evidence remotely, that is what must happen. It is for the other participants, including the prosecution, defence and Judiciary, to ensure that however the witness gives evidence, they receive the maximum support in doing so,” he said.    

“I want to thank the Department of Justice and all the other partners who have worked to bring this new centre into use.

“This initiative not only benefits individual witnesses, but we hope it will also enhance public confidence in a trauma informed and sensitive criminal justice service with victims and witnesses at its heart.”   


Notes to editors:

More information on Special Measures, including eligibility, can be found on the PPS website.  

More information on the Remote Evidence Centres can be found on the Department of Justice website

All media queries on the facilities should be referred to the Department of Justice press office

The original Belfast Remote Evidence Centre was based at another location during the pilot, but has been in its present Belfast city centre location since May 2023. The original Craigavon Remote Evidence Centre is still in place. The exact locations are not disclosed to ensure the comfort and safety of vulnerable victims and witness.

The Victim Charter sets out the entitlements and services that victims of crime in Northern Ireland can expect to receive from a range of service providers, including the Public Prosecution Service. You can read the Charter by visiting the Department of Justice website.

Similarly, the Witness Charter sets out the entitlements and services that witnesses of crime in Northern Ireland can expect to receive from a range of service providers. You can read the Witness Charter on the Department of Justice website.

The PPS Victim and Witness Care Unit (VWCU) is a single point of contact for victims and witnesses involved in cases that have been referred to the PPS. 

For media queries to the PPS please contact PPS Communications on inside office hours. The out of hours press officer can be contacted on 07920 271804, 07920 418844 or 07341 800254.