Justice system delays ‘greatly affects’ victims

Delays in Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system is causing “unnecessary distress” for victims, a charity has warned.

It comes after auditors found that criminal cases in the Province last more than twice as long as those in England and Wales, with the average Crown Court case taking 515 days from the date a crime is reported to police until the trial is completed.

The NI Audit Office also found that more than one in 10 (12%) of Crown Court cases takes more than 1,000 days from police report to conclusion, with the average case hit by more than six adjournments.

Victim Support NI, the organisation supporting victims of crime in NI, said the lives of victims and witnesses are “greatly affected” by long delays in the justice system.

CEO Geraldine Hanna said victims in Northern Ireland “deserve better”.

She told the News Letter: “There are lessons to be learnt, and they need to be implemented sooner rather than later.

“Poor treatment in court, including delays, can make a traumatic situation for victims and witnesses much worse.

“Witnesses often endure delays throughout the criminal justice process, from investigation stages to giving evidence, to waiting for an outcome and sentencing. The experience is often daunting and can cause further unnecessary distress.”

Ms Hanna said the justice system requires a “collaborative approach”, with all agencies working together in a bid to improve timeliness of cases.

She also questioned why advances have been possible in England and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland.

“We also note that there have been efforts made with new initiatives, which are showing results but progress has not been quick enough,” she continued.

“It is essential that fair and speedy justice is delivered for victims and defendants if we as a society are to have confidence in our criminal justice system.”

The Audit Office said the justice system is failing to deliver value for money, with the overall spend in the Province being significantly more than in Great Britain.

They found that weaknesses in the early stages of investigations, when the PSNI gathers evidence and the PPS makes a final decision as to whether to prosecute, are a key cause of delay.

TUV leader and barrister Jim Allister said improving the quality of files submitted by the PSNI would reduce the length of time needed to complete cases.

“This would cut out the toing and froing that often has to go on between the PPS and police, and reduce the number of delays and adjournments in getting the case to trial,” he told the News Letter.