Belfast Telegraph

667 days to reach court: Victims stressed at Northern Ireland sex crime case delays

Victims of sexual violence in Northern Ireland are facing
Victims of sexual violence in Northern Ireland are facing "further stress and trauma" by having to wait almost two years for their cases to reach court, a charity has warned. File image posed by model
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Victims of sexual violence in Northern Ireland are facing "further stress and trauma" by having to wait almost two years for their cases to reach court, a charity has warned.

Figures released yesterday by the Department of Justice (DoJ) show that in the last year, sexual offence trials typically took 667 days to complete.

That is compared to 138 days for public order cases.

The median time to process a criminal case at all courts was 167 days. That is an increase of five days - a working week - from the previous year (162 days).

This is the highest figure recorded in the last five years and contrasts with 143 days in 2014/15.

Overall, the DoJ statistics show that the time taken for cases to be completed in Crown and Magistrates courts in Northern Ireland has reached its highest point in recent years.

This includes an 866-day wait - more than two years - to take summons cases through the Crown Court, up 8% from last year.

Summons cases usually cover lesser crimes, but still include cases like common assault and a wide range of traffic offences.

Waiting times also increased for summons cases in the adult Magistrates courts (201 days, up 1.5%) and youth Magistrates courts (265 days, up 6.9%).

Charge cases, representing the most serious offences, saw improvement in the Crown court.

The average time was still over a year at 416 days, but this was a 2.6% decrease on last year.

Crown court cases here typically take twice as long as in England and Wales.

In adult Magistrates courts, the average time was 70 days, an increase of 1.4%.

For youth Magistrates courts the wait was 114 days, four days more than the previous year.

The statistics on 'Case Processing Time for Criminal Cases' for the year April 1 2018 to March 31 this year refer to the time from which the offence was reported to, or detected by, the police until a verdict is delivered.

The DoJ said that the overall picture is that the time taken for cases to be completed is at its highest point in recent years.

While change in the time taken for the completion of charge cases compared with 2017/18 varied according to court type, the increase in processing times for cases dealt with by way of summons showed a consistent increase for all court types.

The DoJ figures also showed that the average time to complete public order cases was 138 days, compared with 667 days where the main offence was in the sexual offences category.

Trevor Curran, clinical manager at Nexus NI, a charity that provides support to victims of sexual violence, voiced concern.

He said: "We are very aware of the stress and anxiety that victims of sexual abuse have to go through in waiting for their case to be heard in court.

"Sometimes being advised of a court date and it then being deferred, can cause victims to find it impossible to move on until the case is heard.

"These elongated waiting times, sometimes years, can cause further stress and trauma."

In a joint response, the DoJ, PSNI and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said: "Reducing the time it takes to complete criminal cases in Northern Ireland is a priority for the Department of Justice and our criminal justice partners.

"However, it is a challenging, complex issue and reforms and initiatives take time to embed and for their impact to be seen.

"The department and our criminal justice partners continue to work together to improve the speed of the justice system."

A damning report last year from the Northern Ireland Audit Office said court delays here were failing victims and were twice as long as those in England and Wales.

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said at the time that Northern Ireland's criminal justice system "did not deliver value for money", which has "negative impacts" on victims, defendants and witnesses.

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