PPS set to streamline NI operations
The Public Prosecution Service is to streamline its operations in Northern Ireland in a move forced by a £3 million budget cut.
The reorganisation will see PPS chambers in Lisburn and Ballymena close, as well as one of its two chambers in Belfast.
The PPS will now operate from centralised chambers in Belfast, Foyle and Newry, with plans for a satellite office in Omagh.
The service also intends to reduce its workforce from 525 to 483 through the Civil Service voluntary exit scheme.
However, as doubts surround the future of the scheme - due to the uncertainty over the the Stormont House Agreement, those redundancies are not yet copper fastened.
The PPS said there will be no compulsory redundancies.
As part of the changes, a new dedicated Serious Crime section is being established within the PPS. The team will comprise senior prosecutors dealing with the most serious indictable crimes such as murder and manslaughter, as well as serious sexual offences such as rape.
Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC insisted the PPS would continue to provide a first-class prosecution service to all of Northern Ireland.
"These have been difficult decisions but necessary ones to ensure that we meet the £3 million reduction in our budget," he said.
"We are a high performing organisation with a conviction rate of over 85%. My priority, together with the staff, is to make sure that our high standards are maintained. We have taken the approach that this is an opportunity to have a fresh look at how we operate and to strengthen what we do.
"This will involve some centralisation of functions, including the creation of new specialist section which will focus on serious indictable offences, but we consider that this will enhance the resilience and efficiency of the PPS."
The PPS said it will also deliver a "more stream-lined senior management team".
The budget for 2015/16 is £34 million - compared to a projected spend of £37 million. The reorganisation is set to be rolled out over the next two years.
"We are changing the shape of how we deliver our service, without diluting the quality," added Mr McGrory.
"This is the challenge facing organisations throughout the criminal justice sector. We have designed our changes so that we can operate effectively alongside the other agencies as they make their own decisions about their structures.
"We have listened carefully to our criminal justice stakeholders and, very importantly to me, have also engaged positively with staff on the way forward. I want to take this opportunity to thank the staff for the high levels of professionalism and dedication that they show in their work."