Rankin family ‘sidelined’ by justice system

December 13, 2011

Mairead McElkerney, the daughter of murdered Newry pensioner, Maire Rankin has spoken of her family’s difficulty in dealing with the justice system.  Responding to a Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) report which found that changes need to be made to improve the care given to victims and witnesses of crime, Mrs McElkerney criticised the way her family were treated.

Maire Rankin, 81, was found dead by her family on Christmas Day in 2008 – they then endured a wait of two years and ten months until the trial of pensioner’s killer was over and justice was served.

Mrs Rankin’s neighbour Karen Walsh was found guilty of her murder and jailed for at least 20 years.

Her daughter said the court process had been a frustrating journey “through a very tortuous long and protracted legal process.”

“At no time, or at very little time during the two years and 10 months did we know what was going to be the next stage – with delays, you never knew from one court hearing to the next what was going to happen.” She said.

“You were in limbo all the time, you couldn’t make any plans, you couldn’t get information, there was a real lack of communication throughout the whole process.”

“It was our mother that was murdered, so you can’t sit back,” she added, “It’s not that you want to interfere – you just want to know what’s happening from week to week.”

“As victims, you’re on the sidelines and it’s difficult because it has happened to you and you don’t have a voice,” she said.

She added that it was the not knowing that was perhaps hardest to deal with.

“If you knew that the trial would be in a year’s time, you could make plans for that,” Mrs McElkearney said.

“But, when it was going from month to month, it was really difficult and it really did impact on your lives and your ability to function.”

“All we wanted was for people to keep us informed, to have somebody there – a liaison person, an advocate – somebody that you could ask questions, that could explain the process.”

The CJI report said there should be time limits on how long it takes cases to go through the courts.

The report also said while there had been positive developments in the treatment of victims and witnesses, victims still felt that more attention was paid to the needs of the accused. It said they often felt marginalized by the process.

Dr Michael Maguire, from the CJI, said it was important to make help for victims a “service rather than a system”.

The report’s authors believed the length of time taken for court cases to be completed could add to the anxiety and trauma of victims.

“The clear message is that there is still a substantial minority that were unhappy with their experience of the criminal justice system,” said Dr Maguire.

“One of the important messages to come out of the report is the need for empathy and understanding in relation to the needs of victims and witnesses.

“Because they enter into the justice system through no fault of their own and it’s important that there isn’t a one size fits all approach in dealing with individuals.”

The Department of Justice has welcomed the report with Justice Minister, David Ford, especially grateful for the findings as he revealed he has already commissioned work on the development of a new strategy for victims and witnesses, which the findings of the report will help to inform.