14/12/2021

Justice Minister Announces Reform Of Court Committal Process

Justice Minister Naomi Long has announced new legislation to reform the court committal process.

The Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Bill, which was passed in the Assembly today, contains measures which will remove some avoidable delay in the current system and reduce the impact of giving oral evidence on victims and witnesses.

Announcing the new legislation, Naomi Long said: "Today marks a significant step forward in much needed plans to reform the criminal justice process. I have heard all too often of the impact on vulnerable victims and witnesses in the most serious and horrendous crimes who have to give traumatic evidence not just once, but twice as part of our current criminal justice process. This alone can understandably deter vital witnesses from proceeding with a case.

"The provisions of this Bill mean that following implementation, no victim or witness from new cases brought forward can be put on the stand to be examined and cross-examined in a committal hearing before the actual trial.
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"I am also well aware of the impact of the time it can take for cases to progress through court on all concerned. This Bill simplifies the system and allows for quicker progression in some of the most serious of cases, ultimately reducing the length of time that those who have endured so much already feel that their lives have been put on hold.

"I have said from the outset that improving the experiences of victims and witnesses encountering the justice system was my priority and I welcome this further step towards that end."

The reformed Bill will;

• remove the option for the oral evidence of victims and witnesses to be heard during the traditional committal hearing and;

• enhance provisions within the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2015; simplifying the process of direct committal and allowing cases involving some of the most serious offences to bypass a traditional committal hearing and go directly to the Crown Court.

The Bill was introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly in November 2020 and is expected to receive Royal Assent in early 2022. It is hoped that the removal of oral evidence from the traditional committal process will take place shortly thereafter, with provisions in relation to direct committal being implemented at a later stage when the necessary systems and processes are in place.

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