Northern Ireland news

Some inmates spending years behind bars awaiting trial

Eighteen current prisoners have been awaiting trial for between one to three years
Andrew Madden

SOME inmates in the Northern Ireland prison system are spending years behind bars awaiting trial, figures have revealed.

There are currently 18 people who have been imprisoned for between one to three years while waiting for their cases to get underway in the higher courts.

One has been waiting for between three and five years.

There are also 192 prisoners currently on remand in Northern Ireland awaiting proceedings in magistrate's courts.

The greatest length of time a prisoner in the north has spent on remand is 1,028 days.

Figures were disclosed to The Irish News via a freedom of information request.

Over the past decade there have been several high-profile cases which have seen people held for extended periods without trial.

Seamus Daly, who was accused of the Omagh bomb murders, was released from Maghaberry Prison after nearly two years last March before the charges against him were dropped.

Republican activist Stephen Murney spent 14 months in custody after being accused of posting pictures of serving police officers on Facebook before being cleared of all charges in 2014.

Last February, prominent republicans Colin Duffy, Alex McCrory and Harry Fitzsimons were released on bail after 27 months in prison.

They were awaiting a decision on whether they were to be prosecuted for alleged involvement in plans to kill police officers in December 2013.

The men are set to stand trial on related charges in the coming months.

Former justice minister and Alliance party leader David Ford said for years court cases have taken longer in the north than in other jurisdictions and he undertook work during his tenure to tackle the issue.

"Significant effort was made by the police and prosecution services, and the lord chief justice led a pilot project in Ards court division which improved co-operation between the different agencies and significantly improved the time taken to get cases to court," he said.

"A new forensic science laboratory has also speeded up the time taken to analyse materials.

"In the Justice Act 2015, I introduced a number of measures to speed up the system, such as reforming committal and introducing prosecutorial fines, and I believe we will see progress over the coming years as a result."

In response to the figures, a Department for Justice spokesperson said the minister, Claire Sugden, is working to implement the changes in the 2015 act.

"The minister also has a focus on performance and is moving ahead with the requirement in the draft programme for government on effectiveness of the justice system."

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