NI crown court cases ‘twice as slow as England and Wales’

Former justice minister David Ford
Former justice minister David Ford

Crown court cases in Northern Ireland take nearly twice as long on average as in England and Wales, the News Letter can reveal.

The Department of Justice published figures this week showing the average length of time cases take to be ‘disposed’ of by the courts system in Northern Ireland.

The median length of time between the date an offence is first reported and the completion of court proceedings, for summons cases at Crown courts here, was 776 days in 2016/17 — more than two years.

For charge cases at Crown court, the figure was 476 days.

This contrasts starkly with England and Wales.

The most recent figures available show that the average time between an offence and completion of proceedings at Crown Court there was 246 days.

That was the median figure for the period from July to September 2017, published on December 14.

Former Stormont justice minister David Ford, who announced a programme known as ‘Speeding Up Justice’ in 2010 aimed at making the courts system here more efficient when he was in post, said delays in court proceedings can make life difficult for victims, defendants and even witnesses called to give evidence.

“The first most important group who this has an impact on is victims,” said Mr Ford.

“There is no doubt that for many victims there is a period that they feel that they can’t get closure until the business is over and someone is in court and receives a sentence.

“For victims to have to hang on and wait is not good enough.”

He added: “It is a problem as well for witnesses, and also for defendants, particularly in terms of youth justice.

“When it comes to young offenders, we were finding that in some cases there was such a long delay that the defendant sometimes could barely remember the offence.

“There needs to be that connection between the offence and the sentence for intervention and rehabilitation to be effective.”

Mr Ford said: “That is one area where we have been making particular progress.”

The median time taken for a case to be disposed, across all courts, measured from the date the offence was reported, was 165 days in 2016/17 in Northern Ireland.

This is an increase of 13.0% from the median of 146 days taken in 2015/16.