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Editor's Viewpoint: Delays in justice are unacceptable

The Public Prosecutions Service in Northern Ireland is again making the wrong headlines because of the huge delay in helping to bring cases to court.

A report by the Criminal Justice Inspection has concluded that it is taking "significantly longer" here than in England or Wales to have cases processed through the courts, which means it can take up to several months to prosecute suspects.

The major logjam is being caused by the PPS which is taking too long to decide whether or not a case should proceed. The average time taken here to decide whether to prosecute is around six months, some 10 weeks longer than two years ago.

The situation is so bad that the Department of Justice is considering the introduction of time limits which could free a suspect from prosecution if the case is not begun within a specified period.

This has rightly outraged a number of local politicians who are asking why the victims of crime should be punished because of delays in the criminal justice system.

The PPS claims that many of the cases require considerable work before a decision is taken whether to prosecute or not.

This does not impress the public which wants to know why the work of the PPS here is so far beyond that of similar bodies in the UK. In the private sector heads could roll if similar delays were to happen, so why should members of the PPS remain unaccountable for their shortcomings?

Significantly, some members of the police force are also culpable, and the Criminal Justice Inspection criticised the PSNI for the poor quality of some of the case files which are being presented to the PPS for consideration.

The long delay in proceeding with cases is unfair and it unduly penalises those who want to know whether they will be prosecuted or not.

It is time that the PPS entered the real world and devised an effective system that minimises delays. Until that happens no-one will believe their excuses for not doing better.

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