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Arkinson case proof judicial reform is needed

Most people will be disturbed by the length of time it is taking to bring to an end the legal and judicial process, following the death of Arlene Arkinson nearly 20 years ago.

One can only wonder at the continuing trauma faced by her family, who are tortured almost daily by a legal and justice system in Northern Ireland which seems incapable of providing them with any answers about her death.

In the latest twist, the Justice Minister David Ford could face a High Court challenge if he refuses to provide additional legal aid to a convicted child killer – Robert Howard – who is due to give evidence at Arlene's inquest.

This is scheduled to take place at the end of April, almost seven years after it was first ordered.

Now, the ongoing wrangle about allegedly insufficient legal aid for Howard's lawyers, may lead to a further lengthy postponement.

It is little wonder that the lawyer representing the Arkinson family has said: "Nobody is treating this as a plaything, but the effects on real people in the real world are serious, and I think we should all keep that in mind."

While an inquest is still awaited, tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on judicial reviews, and despite this, a child killer is apparently running rings around the judicial system.

It is a mockery that yet more taxpayers' money may have to be spent on funding Howard's legal team at the inquest, when it eventually takes place.

It is important to remember that this is not a trial, but an inquest, so why does it need to be dragged out in this way?

When all this is finally over, the terribly short life of Arlene Arkinson, and the long aftermath following her death, will provide the definitive case study of considerable legal and judicial failures here, and a powerful cry for much-needed reform.

Not for the first time, many people will ask themselves why such legal matters are allowed to develop into such a dreadful tangle, while grieving relatives are forced to continue suffering in silence.

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