Northern Ireland courts fast-track cases to clear backlog following legal aid row
Northern Ireland's Crown Courts are fast-tracking cases in a bid to deal with the hundreds of cases delayed because of a dispute over legal aid between lawyers and the authorities.
More than 800 cases had been stuck in a backlog after lawyers refused to represent defendants after the Department of Justice proposed new rules for legal aid in Northern Ireland.
The bitter dispute, which began last August, was resolved just over two weeks ago, and judges in the various Crown Court districts have had criminal cases fast-tracked for inclusion in their lists.
Delayed cases are now flowing in a steady stream before the courts. In an effort to deal with the backlog, judges have been listing 10 to 20 cases a day in the hope of clearing the bulk of them by the Easter break in just over a fortnight's time.
In Antrim alone the court hopes to have listed, arraigned and set trial dates for more than 100 cases even before then.
In Belfast, in the past week alone, judges have formally arraigned five murder cases, and dealt with numerous others, including one of child cruelty, grievous bodily harm, and one of riot.
Yesterday, in Belfast, judges dealt with more than 30 cases involving more than 40 individuals. They included four Chinese people who between them denied drug and money laundering offences, and three rioters who pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next month.
Other arraignments covered offences of grievous bodily harm, armed and attempted robbery, burglary, possessing firearms, ammunition and drugs.