Court cases to face time limits
Northern Ireland's courts are to face time limits for the handling of cases in a bid to tackle major delays in the justice system, it has been announced.
Justice Minister David Ford told the Assembly the changes would initially be introduced for youth courts, but would eventually apply to all cases.
This follows damning reports which revealed court cases in Northern Ireland can take twice as long as in England or Wales, while it can take more than seven times as long to process a youth case.
Delays in some categories have got worse over the last 12 months, despite pressure on the police, prosecution service and the courts to speed up justice.
But after a number of MLAs raised concerns that time limits might see offenders walk free if their cases ran late, Mr Ford said this did not reflect the experience of other jurisdictions where limits are already in place.
"As a first step, I have asked the Criminal Justice Board to consider in detail how such time limits could work in Northern Ireland. I will make a further announcement about the results of this work in due course," he said.
"Although the details remain to be agreed, in essence the time limits would give the justice system a fixed amount of time to progress a criminal case and would specify penalties for failing to meet them.
"I am clear that a crucial part of the Criminal Justice Board's considerations must be how we safeguard the interests of victims in any framework of time limits.
"Let me state categorically that statutory time limits are to be a measure that makes victims' experiences and perceptions of the justice system better, not worse. I will not introduce a system without proper safeguards to ensure that outcome."
He told the Assembly that proposals were being agreed and he promised legislation within the next two to three years.