Public perceptions survey published

Publication date:

A Northern Ireland Life and Times survey which monitors public perceptions of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has been published today.

The bulletin, entitled “Perceptions of the Public Prosecution Service”, provides information on levels of public awareness of the prosecuting authority for Northern Ireland, as well as public confidence in the fairness, effectiveness and independence of the organisation.

This is the fourth year that the Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) survey respondents were asked for their views in these key areas.

The surey was conducted over a ten-week period from October-December 2021  and its results from the four questions asked were as follows:

  • Of the respondents that were surveyed, 87.2% had heard of the PPS (2020: 90.7%);
  • 52.5% of all respondents were either very or fairly confident that the PPS is effective at prosecuting people accused of committing a crime (2020: 62.1%);
  • 60.7% of all respondents were either very or fairly confident that the PPS provides a fair and impartial prosecution service (2020: 70.3%);
  • 58.7% of all respondents were either very or fairly confident that the PPS takes its prosecution decisions independently (2020: 69.1%).

Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron said: “It is the role of the PPS to deliver prosecution services in an independent, fair and effective way. We do this by always acting impartially and in the interests of justice, and through applying high professional standards to the decisions we make and the cases we bring to court. 

“It is a sign of the importance of these principles to us, and a commitment to transparency, that we actively monitor and publish public perceptions through the annual NILT survey. This year’s results are undoubtedly disappointing with notable decreases in levels of public confidence in the key areas examined.  

“The survey results were gathered during a year in which there was intense political and public focus on the work of the PPS, particularly as regards our handling of legacy cases and files involving potential breaches of the Coronavirus Health Regulations. Other challenges included the backlogs caused by the pandemic, and the clear detrimental impact this has had on victims and witnesses, along with the impact of pre-pandemic delays and chronic funding pressures.

“It is the nature of our work to make evidence-based decisions which may on occasions be unpopular politically, depending on perspective. I firmly believe that in the longer-term public confidence is always best served by prosecutors continuing to discharge our duties without fear or favour, and without undue pressure or influence from any quarter.

“It is also the nature of the legal system that the decisions we make and the outcome of prosecutions can sometimes be difficult to understand within the constraints of what can appropriately be made public about them. That said, the PPS is fully committed to being open and transparent where we can be and to engaging with key stakeholders and partners to increase understanding of our work and decision-making processes, and ultimately increase confidence in them.

“Therefore, whilst the potential range of reasons for these decreases is complex, I am committed to exploring what lies behind the results, and to listening to concerns and to increasing engagement in key areas and with appropriate stakeholders.

“With this in mind, we will analyse the NILT survey results carefully.  In the meantime, I would reassure the public that the PPS does operate in a completely independent and impartial way and we strive to place fairness and effectiveness at the heart of our operations.

“In the year ahead, we face an increase in demand against the context of an uncertain funding position. Despite these challenges, PPS staff will continue to work hard to provide a high-quality prosecution service to the people of Northern Ireland. We will continue to play our part as a central pillar of the Criminal Justice System and we will continue to work towards maintaining our consistently strong conviction rates which are a reliable indicator of performance levels.

“We also remain committed to providing a high-quality service to victims, and to treating victims with respect and sensitivity at all times.”


Notes to Editors:

Further information on the work of the Public Prosecution Service, how the organisation operates and how decisions as to prosecution are taken can be found on the PPS website and through the PPS Code for Prosecutors.

According to the 2020-21 Statistical Bulletin which presents key statistics on the activity of the PPS, the overall conviction rate in the Crown Court was 91.6% while the conviction rate in the Magistrates’ and Youth Courts was 81.1%.

The Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) Survey was launched by the University of Ulster and Queen’s University of Belfast in the autumn of 1998. Its mission is to monitor the attitudes and behaviour of people in Northern Ireland annually to provide a time-series and a public record of how attitudes and behaviour develop on a wide range of social policy issues. The survey is run on a modular format and aims to provide a local resource for use by the general public and a data source for public and academic debate.

This is the fourth year that Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey respondents were asked for their views on the Public Prosecution Service. A total of four questions specific to the PPS were included to gauge the following:

  • Public awareness of the PPS (Question 1);
  • Public perceptions of the PPS’s effectiveness in prosecuting people accused of committing a crime (Question 2);
  • Public perceptions of the PPS’s fairness and impartiality (Question 3); and
  • Public perceptions of the PPS’s independence (Question 4).

Question 1 was asked of all respondents. Questions 2, 3 and 4 relate only to those respondents who had heard of the PPS (i.e. respondents who had answered ‘yes’ at (Question 1).

Detailed notes have been supplied, which provide an account of the technical aspects of the survey, including the origin of the sample, response rates and its representativeness (see Technical Notes, page 17 of the bulletin). It should be noted that, as in previous surveys, this latest tranche of the survey has produced a relatively high proportion of people who answered ‘don’t know’ in response to the questions. These ‘don’t knows’ have been excluded from the main body of the report. As such, the focus of the bulletin is on those people who have offered an opinion regarding the PPS.

The information gathered via the survey is used by the PPS for a variety of purposes, such as informing the development of policy and assessing the effectiveness of the Service’s Communication and Outreach Strategies. Data in respect of the PPS’s effectiveness and its fairness and impartiality are also used as key performance indicators for the Service.

These are ‘Official Statistics’ as defined in Section 6 of the Statistics and Registration Services Act 2007. Statisticians from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency are seconded to the PPS and are responsible for ensuring that the statistics produced comply with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

The bulletin may be viewed or downloaded from our website. Any member of the public may comment on the report by contacting PPS as follows:

Policy and Information Unit

Public Prosecution Service

Belfast Chambers

93 Chichester Street

Belfast BT1 3JR

Tel: 02890 897100

Deaf / hard of hearing (SMS): 07795 675528



Media queries should be referred to the PPS Communications Unit by emailing inside office hours. The out of hours press officer can be contacted on 07920 271804.