Criminal trial delays to be cut by project

A pilot court project will dramatically cut waiting times for criminal trials, according to a leadingvictims’ organisation.

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland welcomed plans by Justice Minister Alan Shatter to launch a pilot on pre-trial procedures in October.

The trial will run in circuit courts in Dublin and elsewhere and aims to cut bureaucratic legal issues which delay trials.

“The impact of delay in court cases cannot be underestimated for victims of sexual violence,” said RCNI executive director Fiona Neary. “Many victims are waiting years for their case to reach court and simply cannot move on with their lives. For other victims, it is a factor in deciding whether or not to report at all.

“The minister’s indication that pre-trial procedures will be piloted from October 2012, therefore, is to be welcomed. We have lobbied long and hard for such reform.”

She said they believed the average length of time from return for trial to the actual trial taking place in the Central Criminal Court could be reduced significantly from the “unacceptable high” of over 16 months, as found by the RCNI commissioned research, Rape and Justice in Ireland, in 2009.

Ms Neary said that, through effective pre-trial procedures, this delay could be reduced to three to six months, in line with other jurisdictions.

“RCNI has long recognised that delays in progressing cases to court, is in many instances a preventable trauma for survivors of sexual violence,” she said. “We are also very much aware that these delays often represent an enormous waste of precious resources. For these reasons the reform of legal practice and policy with regard to delay has been central to RCNI’s legal advocacy for the past four years.”

A Department of Justice spokeswoman said the measures would be included in the Criminal Procedure Bill. “Heads of a Criminal Procedure Bill are in the early stages of preparation,” she said.

“The bill will be aimed at reforming criminal procedures with a view to improving the efficiency and fairness of systems.”

She said the bill will be informed by consultations with stakeholders and in particular by the work of the Working Groups to identify and report on Efficiencies in the Criminal Justice system/Circuit and District Courts and that of the Expert Group on Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Last May, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Claire Loftus, called for moves in this area.

“If I was to have one wish granted for the operation of the criminal justice system, it would be that we would have effective pre-trial procedure for the disposal of issues that need not be left to the trial,” said Ms Loftus.

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