Judge's forensic lab fury: David Ford under fire as delayed tests clog up judicial process
Forensic science work in Northern Ireland is being carried out on a shoestring budget, a High Court judge said in an apparent broadside at the Justice Minister.
Mr Justice Weir described the situation as unacceptable after being told experts refuse to accept any more police exhibits after reaching their monthly quotas.
In his assessment of delays in some criminal cases, he suggested David Ford may have to "look closer to home" in efforts to speed up the system.
Unfavourable comparisons were made with the time taken to deal with high-profile murder trials in England and Wales.
He also called for a media investigation to ensure the Stormont Assembly is fully aware of the funding.
"The idea that the forensic laboratory barricades its door in the middle of the month because it has done all the work it's paid to do is absolutely unacceptable," he said.
"It's about (time) the Press carried out some sort of investigation into this and wrote some article about it.
"I don't think the public have any idea that work is undertaken on a shoestring.
"Do members of the Assembly know? Does the justice committee know? Do any of these people know about what the situation is?" The judge issued his comments after learning that test results on a suspected £150,000 batch of cocaine seized at the start of August will not be confirmed until mid-January.
He identified the prosecutions brought over murders of Drummer Lee Rigby and schoolgirl April Jones to make his point.
"The attack upon the off-duty soldier in England, or the case in Wales about the child that disappeared," Mr Justice Weir said.
"These cases from the date of commission to the date of trial are often dealt with in less than a year.
"Meanwhile, six months after the seizing of this material we are waiting to get information on whether it is or isn't cocaine."
One of the men allegedly linked to the find of three kilos of suspected cocaine at a house in Crossgar, Co Down, is lorry driver John Harvey.
The 48-year-old, of Ardoyne Road, Belfast, faces charges of possessing, supplying and conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
His legal team mounted a fresh High Court bail application, citing delays in the case.
But a prosecution barrister said Forensic Science Northern Ireland had refused to take the cocaine exhibit from police in August because it had already reached its target for the month.