Belfast Telegraph

Judge in 'ping-pong' blast at police and PPS over trial delays

By Alan Erwin

A senior judge has lambasted the police and Public Prosecution Service for the time taken to get criminal cases ready for trial.

Mr Justice Weir was speaking as he granted bail to an epileptic man accused of inflicting serious injuries on a pub drinker in a one-punch attack.

A lawyer for Barry Whittle from Clareen Drive, Derry, claimed that during one of a number of epileptic seizures, Whittle lay in his cell for 45 minutes without treatment. The barrister said his client ended up on a life-support machine and is now suing for negligence.

Questioning the length of time being taken to progress Whittle's case, the judge pointed out that murder suspects go on trial in England within nine months.

"Here we can't get a case about a stolen bicycle on within a year," he said.

Mr Justice Weir told counsel he was "sick" of hearing issues about files not being complete. He said: "It's about time we dragged ourselves into the 21st century."

Despite opposition to Whittle's release, the judge held that preparation work had gone on too long and bail should be granted.

The alleged victim suffered a fracture to the skull and broken facial bones in the incident at Duke's Bar in the Waterside area on August 17. Whittle denies the offence.

The judge said in his view a decision could be taken on whether to prosecute Whittle, with any outstanding material supplied later.

"I know very well when police send the file in, what the prosecutors do is they pick through the file to find some little thing that isn't there that could perfectly well be dealt with subsequently and they send it back," he said.

"It happens all the time, this case of ping-pong between police and the PPS, and who suffers? People on remand, people who legitimately complain about things that happen to them and the public generally - that's who suffers."

A PPS spokesperson said: "The remarks made today by Mr Justice Weir are disappointing. In this case, which involves a serious offence, the PPS has liaised positively with police to ensure a full and proper prosecution case is presented.

"We consider that the comments of Mr Justice Weir are unwarranted. We acknowledge that avoidable delay is a concern across the criminal justice system and remain committed to working with the judiciary and other agencies to ensure that these are properly addressed."

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