Paul Frew DUP MLA and Justice Committee Chairman has urged the minister of Justice Claire Sugden to consider seriously the rolling out of the indictable cases pilot that was held in Ards Magistrates Court.
The North Antrim MLA stated, “This pilot was launched on 2 January 2015 in the court Division of Ards. It ran for a period of 12 months through what became a very difficult time in the court setting with the dispute with the Justice Minister raging at that time. However it had been a hugely successful pilot. In fact, the Lord Chief Justice was reported to have said it had ‘dramatic results’.
Through the scheme, criminal justice agencies implemented a number of changes on how cases were investigated and prepared. This included the greater use of pre-interview disclosure by the police, the provision of a case outline to facilitate early engagement with the defence and a new statement at police interview stage, highlighting to suspects the potential benefits of entering a plea at the earliest opportunity.
The pilot also made use of improved investigative pathways, clearer file standards with effective supervision, earlier prosecutorial advice to the police in relation to charging, the timely and proportionate use of forensic and other evidence; and, for contested cases, earlier discussions between parties with a view to narrowing the issues involved in the case.”
Frew continued, “Average times for pilot cases, measured against the average times for cases elsewhere in Northern Ireland indicated significant improvements in performance. This of course places an upfront financial burden and pressure on processes, on the Police and particularly the PPS. However the savings and time at the Court are crucial to sentencing some high profile cases.
This, I believe is positive progress and the potential that this offers to improve processing times is something that should be grasped with both hands. It will improve access to Justice achieving better outcomes for Court users, creating a more responsive system that makes use of all available resources.
I am pushing hard for a restructuring of our court system and processes – a small step on a long journey. The DUP have pioneered, for some time now, the Problem Solving court System in this Country. There are lots of good examples of how the Justice system is improving, this includes the work of the Lord Chief Justice who launched the Review of Civil and Family Justice, led by Lord Justice Gillen. These are all steps in the right direction.”