Drive to cut errors in courts paying off
A drive to improve the accuracy of orders issued by judges in Northern Ireland could force under-pressure court clerks to seek work elsewhere, inspectors have warned.
Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice Brendan McGuigan hailed the efforts to reduce the number of errors made in producing court orders, but he said the staff who had worked hard to improve the Court Service's performance figures needed to be supported.
The Criminal Justice Inspectorate found a 99.2% accuracy rate among the almost 360,000 court orders issued last year.
The review examined changes that have been introduced in the wake of a number of incidents where erroneous details on court orders had public safety implications, such as offenders being wrongly released from custody.
In a high-profile case, a supervision order issued to two alleged sex abusers – brothers Owen Roe and James McDermott, from Donagh in Co Fermanagh – was found to be at variance from the actual instructions issued by the judge, although the mistakes ultimately had no significant impact on the disposal of the case.
Following that incident in 2010, a review of Sexual Offences Prevention Orders issued in Northern Ireland between 1997 and 2011 found an error rate of 18.4%.
The latest inspection found that the error rate in regard to sexual offence cases now stands at 3.8%. All of the mistakes were identified before they had any impact.
Mr McGuigan, who said many of the incidents could be put down to human error, such as mishearing a judge in a noisy court room, said safeguards and review systems had delivered real improvements in accuracy.