Inspection uncovers long wait for Justice in Northern Ireland

Excessive delays in the processing of criminal cases have been found in the criminal justice system following an inspection by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland.

Crown Court cases in Northern Ireland were found to take on average 12 months to progress from a defendant’s first appearance to disposal.
“Although there are differences in the criminal justice systems that operate in Northern Ireland and England and Wales, we found when the two jurisdictions were compared it took on average one third longer for a Crown Court case to get from point of remand to disposal in Northern Ireland,” said Kit Chivers, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice.
“Comparisons between figures for magistrates’ courts in England and Wales and those in Northern Ireland have shown that cases here take nearly twice as long to progress from charge or summons to disposal.
“Cases involving young people are also experiencing excessive delays as offences committed by this group are dealt with in under half the time in England and Wales they take to be dealt with here. This means young people are being denied the right to prompt, summary justice to the detriment of all involved -- the offender, the victim and the witness,” he stated.
As a result of the inspection, Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) has called on the Government to take a lead in tackling avoidable delay in criminal cases.
“We have recommended that all of the agencies from the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service through to the Court Service, Probation Board and Youth Justice Agency develop a joint strategy with common targets and an action planto provide a combined solution to this problem,” said Mr Chivers.
Inspectors found that each agency had developed initiatives to reduce delay, but the lack of a co-ordinated approach had reduced the effectiveness of their efforts to address the problem.
The report also highlighted the adjournment culture that exists when cases come to court.
“Adjournments occur on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. We need to know why adjournments are taking place and cases are not progressed. Once you have identified the causes of adjournments, you can tackle the problems that are slowing the criminal justice system down,” he added.
“This inspection also found that the quality of files being submitted by the PSNI to the Prosecution Service was poor. Police officers need to be given more training and to gain more experience in file preparation. DistrictCommanders must also play their part by making the prompt completion and submission of high quality prosecution files by officers a local DCUpriority,” declared Mr Chivers.
He continued: “The Prosecution Service must then work towards making quicker decisions on cases submitted to them by making better use of the available resources and implementing a robust, internal case processing system.
Mr Chivers suggested crucial Prosecution Service time could also be freed up if work on lower level cases, especially minor offences involving youths, were dealt with by the police through the use of informed warnings and cautions.
“Criminal Justice Inspection welcomes the fact Government has recognised the extent and consequences of delay in the processing of criminal cases,” concluded the Chief Inspector.