Change in working practices needed to cut slow pace of justice’ says Chief Inspector

The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland has called for a change in the way justice organisations work to reduce the time it takes for an individual to pass through the justice system and have their case dealt with by a court.

Dr Michael Maguire emphasised the need to improve performance after a major inspection report into avoidable delay within the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland found current timescales were too long and needed improvement.
Speaking today (30 June 2010) following the publication of the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) report, Dr Maguire said: “Delay continues to occur at each stage of the criminal justice process which negatively impacts on victims, witnesses and defendants and undermines their confidence in the criminal justice system.
“This inspection picks up where a previous CJI report left off in 2006. It tracks the progress made since then in tackling unnecessary delay across the justice system and found the position in Northern Ireland compares unfavourably to that of the most similar neighbouring jurisdiction in England and Wales.
“We found the position in Northern Ireland in the 2009-10 financial year was that it can take on average 10 months for a young person on a summons case, to pass end-to-end through the criminal justice system,” Dr Maguire said.
“Criminal Justice Inspection recognises that delivering the required changes on the ground is a key challenge for the criminal justice system. Throughout this inspection we have worked closely with the justice agencies in discussing the nature of the problems and the way forward,” he continued.
“I acknowledge and welcome the actions which have already commenced within the criminal justice system to deal with the issue of avoidable delay and develop new joint approaches. These developments can only be to the good of the justice system and those who come into contact with it,” said the Chief Inspector.
Dr Maguire continued: “CJI’s previous inspection of avoidable delay published four years ago, produced a positive initial response from the criminal justice system. However, this latest inspection has established that attempts to deal with the problems have made little impact, and there are a number of important issues that need to be addressed immediately by the various justice organisations.”
“We have recommended the quality and timeliness of files being submitted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS) needs to improve.
“The PSNI also needs to realise its vision of ‘getting it right first time’ for case files, as it has the potential to improve overall case timescales, aid PPS decision-making and help address the causes of court adjournments,” he said.
Dr Maguire added that across the criminal justice system, there was a requirement for better case management and case progression which was particularly important within the PPS and the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.
And he urged all the agencies within the criminal justice system work more collaboratively with each other to ensure cases reach court more quickly and are ready to proceed when they get there.
CJI has also recommended the PSNI and the PPS should develop a shared vision on future co-operation, which would support a more beneficial working relationship between these key partners in the criminal justice system.
“This inspection recognises the need for improved Ministerial oversight of the performance of the criminal justice agencies,” added the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
In conclusion, Dr Maguire encouraged each of the agencies to continue their efforts and to use the CJI inspection report as a springboard to further improvement. He also indicated that he would be reporting to the Minister of Justice on an annual basis on the performance of the criminal justice agencies in reducing avoidable delay.