Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Sanctions call to end court delays

Barra McGrory, Director of the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service, wants to tackle delays in the justice system

Sanctions for lawyers who do not meet deadlines or other judicial requests could be one way of tackling delays in the justice system, Northern Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions has said.

Doing away with pre-trial committal hearings, where serious cases are officially transferred from the magistrates court to the crown court, could also speed things up and replicate a change already adopted in Great Britain, according to Barra McGrory.

Mr McGrory said the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) was trying to streamline internal processes and was working with police to ensure the quality of files handed to prosecutors was improved.

But he said those initiatives would only work alongside reform of the court system.

The DPP said there was also the need for a statutory form of case management overseen by judges.

He explained: "So that there are effective sanctions on prosecution and defence alike who fail to observe the existing recommendations in terms of processing of cases - that there are adverse consequences either for prosecution or defence in a serious way."

He added: "I am conscious that when I call for some form of statutory case management that that is going to put pressure on us (the PPS) but I do think it would create a dynamic."

Mr McGrory said the files handed to prosecutors by the police in recent years were often not in the most accessible or user-friendly form. He said some technological advances, such as the introduction of a new police computer system, had actually slowed down the process.

"In a sense we are victims of technology," he said. "In the old style an inspector would have prepared a police report and would have indexed and ordered the material in a way that met the prosecutors' needs and unfortunately whoever designed the computer system didn't take that onboard, therefore we need to do a lot of extra work to get the material into the order that we want it in."

But he said co-operation with police chiefs had helped to address some of the issues.

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