NORTH Antrim Assembly Member Jim Allister (TUV) has contacted the Equality Commission about what he has describes as a “disturbing imbalance which can only undermine confidence” in the Public Prosecution Service.
Mr Allister said: “Back in the summer, I wrote to the Public Prosecution Service asking for a breakdown of the community background of PPS prosecutors across the service and in each regional office.”
He said he wanted to know how the “PPS reflects the diversity of the community it serves”.
Mr Allister said: “I was advised that the PPS were unable to provide the figures for regional offices but across the service there are 110 Roman Catholics prosecutors and just 50 Protestant prosecutors. There are another 9 whose community background cannot be determined.
“On foot of this response, I wrote to the Equality Commission drawing their attention to the disturbing imbalance which can only undermine confidence in the service.
“The Equality Commission advised me that the Northern Ireland Civil Service is to take affirmative action measures to address under-representation of Protestants in the legal grades generally in the NICS, including prosecutors in the Public Prosecution Service.
“The Commission has assured me that it will be engaging with the NICS to identify appropriate affirmative action measures and monitoring their implementation going forward.
“How we got to a situation where under 30% of PPS prosecutors are Protestant is an issue which demands attention. Had such gross imbalance been noticed in relation to a Roman Catholic minority within the service I have no doubt that many would be raising the matter.
“That said the fact that the civil service with the assistance of the Equality Commission is belatedly taking action on the issue is welcome and something I will keep a close eye on in the coming days.”
In response to Mr Allister’s comments, The Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron, said: “The PPS’s three key aims are to be independent, fair and effective, and these values underpin everything we do.
“All PPS recruitment competitions are managed by Northern Ireland Civil Service HR. The NICS is an Equal Opportunities employer and all recruitment is regulated by the Civil Service Commissioners, who are appointed to uphold the principle that selection for posts in the NICS should be on the basis of merit through fair and open competition.
“We take our responsibilities in providing a wholly impartial and high quality prosecution service to the people of Northern Ireland very seriously. Every prosecution decision is taken objectively by carefully analysing the available evidence and applying the Test for Prosecution as set out in the Code for Prosecutors.
“We understand that cross community confidence is essential to the administration of justice and we work hard to ensure this public confidence is maintained by being as open and transparent as possible in our decision making.
“I am therefore encouraged that the latest independent Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey showed that public confidence in us has risen in the past year, with more than three quarters of respondents (76.6%) having confidence that we provide a fair and impartial prosecution service to the people of Northern Ireland.
“It is also reassuring that this broad public support is reflected when the survey looked at the religious background breakdown of those questioned.
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