Statutory time limits needed to reduce delay in justice system

CRIMINAL Justice Inspection in Northern Ireland has repeated its call for the introduction of statutory time limits in order to reduce the levels of avoidable delay throughout the justice system.

With cases taking on average twice as long to complete as in England and Wales, and more than seven-and-a-half times in certain youth prosecutions, the inspectorate is disappointed at the lack of progress since it reported in June 2010.
“While considerable effort has been made to redress the problem, progress has been slow and indeed performance has got worse for Crown Court cases and for Magistrates’ Court cases which commence through report and summons,” said the chief inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Dr Michael Maguire.
He went on; “A significant reduction in the end-to-end times for case progression requires a number of successful building blocks to be put in place. Put simply it requires desire, the right people making decisions, on-going monitoring, changes in behaviour and a flexibility in approach.
“It also needs to be recognised that no single agency within the justice system has the capability alone to make it happen and that for those outside the normal accountability arrangements of that system, like solicitors and barristers, a change in behaviour will be needed.
“We recommend the phased introduction of statutory time limits starting with Youth Court cases within the next two years.”
The report highlights how delay is present in the justice system; the file quality of the PSNI needs to improve, case management and progression within the Public Prosecution Service could be better and the number of adjournments reduced from five per case in Northern Ireland compared to 1.3 in England and Wales.
The delays associated with the service of court summonses has significantly increased since the publication of the last report in 2010 and now requires an immediate response from the PSNI and other justice agencies.  
Dr Maguire pointed out that the introduction of statutory time limits would not solve the broader problem immediately but would encourage other participants in the justice system to change the way they behave and act against a background of better performance management and greater accountability.

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