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Terrorism and murder cases to be fast-tracked through courts

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS), police and Department of Justice have now completed a pilot in Newtownards, commissioned by the north’s top judge, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, changing how cases are investigated and prepared for court 

TERRORISM, murder and serious sex crimes are set to be fast-tracked through the courts after an overhaul has seen case times slashed from two and a half years to a matter of months.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan demanded that the justice system look into “inexplicable delays” in cases going through the courts.

He was concerned after a sample revealed some were taking almost 900 days.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS), police and Department of Justice have now completed a pilot in Newtownards, commissioned by the north’s top judge, changing how cases are investigated and prepared for court.

Sir Declan himself has described the results as “dramatic” and preliminary data, seen by the Irish News, reveals a remarkable reduction to an average of just 146 days for completion of 100 cases.

The average of 75 days between a case being reported and the file going to prosecutors fell to 29, and the gap between reports and prosecutorial decisions was cut from 160 days to just 28.

The PPS is already applying some of the practices to its new Serious Crime Unit, which deals with murder and serious sexual offences.

It has seen cases which have traditionally taken anything from 18 months to two-and-a-half years slashed to just eight months from `commital’ in court to sentencing.

Cases include that of Alan Armstong who was jailed for life earlier this month after admitting killing two men with a samurai sword last July.

Among the innovations – which are the first of their kind anywhere in the world - is `early engagements’ between prosecutors and defence lawyers to encourage early guilty pleas.

They also identify `likely defences’ for those cases which will proceed to full trial – drastically cutting police work.

However, senior prosecutor Marianne O’Kane, who ran the `Ards Pilot’, insists early discussions between her team and defences do not indicate too close a relationship.

“I can categorically assure victims and members of the public that deals are nor done,” she said.

“We will never sanction a deal or a plea bargain.”

In addition to already being adopted by the new Serious Crime Unit, the Fresh Start Panel reporting on the Disbandment of Paramilitary Groups has recommended that it be implemented throughout Northern Ireland, “particularly in respect of those offences linked to terrorism or organised crime groups”.

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