Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Concern at Northern Ireland juvenile justice delays

The Public Prosecution Service has been advised to work closer with police to cut delays in the juvenile justice system

Juveniles facing criminal charges in Northern Ireland have to wait more than seven times longer for justice to run its course than those in other parts of the UK, a critical report has found.

It takes around 10 months from the time a young person is reported to prosecutors until their case is dealt with by a magistrate, according to the region's Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice.

Dr Michael Maguire also identified a series of avoidable delays in getting adults into court - with men and women charged in Northern Ireland waiting 127 days for a judgment, compared to 48 days in England and Wales.

He called for a major shake-up of how local justice organisations process cases. In particular he said the police and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) need to work better together.

The inspector also advised that statutory time limits for cases be introduced in addition to existing targets. "Delay continues to occur at each stage of the criminal justice process which negatively impacts on victims, witnesses and defendants and undermines their confidence in the criminal justice system," he said.

Dr Maguire's report comes four years after an initial examination of the system by the Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) flagged up a number of areas where time was being wasted.

But in the five specific types of cases that go through the courts each year in Northern Ireland, three are now actually taking longer than they did in 2006.

When police believe an offence has taken place they can either charge the suspect or pass a report to prosecutors. In latter instance the suspect will be summoned to court if the PPS decides to prosecute.

While Dr Maguire acknowledged that direct comparisons between different jurisdictions were difficult, he said that in broad terms cases in Northern Ireland were taking much longer than in England and Wales.

The Public Prosecution Service and Police Service of Northern Ireland also backed Dr Maguire's recommendations and both outlined their willingness to work with each other to cut delays.

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