30/06/2010

Justice Wheels 'Grind Too Slowly': NI Courts Are Slammed For Delays

"Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small/Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all." From a 17th century poem, 'Retribution,' by Friedrich Von Logau.

The punishment of offendors is said to be taking too long with the time taken to process cases through the courts in Northern Ireland slammed as undermining confidence in the system.

The police and prosecutors have each been urged to work more closely together to reduce the amount of time it takes for the wheels of justice to turn.

A report by the Criminal Justice Inspection NI (CJINI) has said the process takes too long and undermines public confidence and also warns that delays could make victims of crime less likely to report it to police.

However, Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr, who represents the Chief Constable on the Criminal Justice Board, added: "We are committed to improving this process and substantial progress has already been made in terms of implementing the recommendations made in the last report.

"I am confident that by working in close partnership there is much more we can do.

"We already have a very good relationship with the PPS that is both mature and constructive and we recently met to agree a joint approach to address the issues contained in the report," the senior officer said.

"This includes tackling the volume of cases that are submitted to the formal Criminal Justice System in a more efficient and focused manner to ensure that justice outcomes are delivered by local officers, using their discretion in a proportionate and meaningful way, and reflecting the needs of the victim, offender and local community."

Speaking about the publication of the Report on Avoidable Delay, the Acting Chair of the NI Policing Board, Brian Rea, said today: "The Board has been concerned for some considerable time about the interface between the PSNI and the Public Prosecution System; and the issues raised in this report now provide a basis for addressing inefficiencies across the system.

"Public confidence in the Criminal Justice System has been affected by the time it takes to progress cases.

"There is also however a significant impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of policing which the Policing Board are keen to address," he said, noting that the Board has been discussing with the Chief Constable measures not only to reduce bureaucracy within policing but also tackling the inefficiencies where policing interfaces with the criminal justice system.
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"The Board has consistently raised concerns about the exchange of information within the criminal justice system and between the police and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in particular," he continued.

"The Board will discuss this report with the Chief Constable at a future meeting and will continue to work with the Chief Constable to tackle avoidable delay in the criminal justice system."

However, the man who controls the system, Justice Minister David Ford has already reaffirmed his commitment to tackling avoidable delay and speeding up the justice system.

The Minister was responding to the publication of the Criminal Justice Inspection follow-up report on avoidable delay.

Mr Ford said: "I welcome the publication of the Chief Inspector's follow up report on avoidable delay. While it shows that some progress has been made since the last report, it is clear that we still have much to achieve.

"The devolution of policing and justice powers provides a real opportunity to make a difference. Speeding up justice is one of my top priorities and I am committed to driving forward work to eliminate unnecessary and wasteful delay.

"We have already put in place, through the Criminal Justice Board, a new comprehensive programme of work focusing on four key issues: case preparation, case management, youth cases and governance.

"These strands of work were a direct response to the Chief Inspector's emerging findings, which he helpfully shared with the Board in December 2009, they also, therefore, closely mirror his observations and recommendations in the final report.

"My objective is to improve the victims' journey through the criminal justice system and I will be monitoring the outcomes of this programme of work very closely," the Alliance party MLA said.

"This is a huge challenge for everyone working in the justice system, but I am confident that, working in partnership, we can build community confidence in the system and deliver the step change that is required."

Meanwhile, Jim Scholes, Acting Director of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said: "The PPS supports the recommendations in the Report many of which are already being taken forward in an increasingly close and effective professional relationship with police.

"The PPS welcomes the emphasis which the Report gives to improving the quality and timeliness of police investigation files. We are working collaboratively with police to secure improvements in this area and to simplify reporting arrangements.

"As the Report acknowledges, there is not a direct comparability between the criminal justice arrangements in England and Wales and those in NI with regard to case processing times.

"Any intention to bring arrangements into line with those in England and Wales would, in the main, require legislation by the Assembly," he warned.

(BMcC)

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