HC Deb 02 July 1997 vol 297 c201W
Mr. Robert McCartney

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps her Department is taking to increase the speed at which the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions processes cases to conclusion; and if she will make a statement about its targets. [5573]

Mr. Ingram

The Northern Ireland Office is responsible for providing the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland with staff, accommodation and other resources. The Director, who is independent of government, is superintended in the due performance of his functions under the Prosecution of Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Office, both in relation to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and, as part of its general responsibility for criminal justice in Northern Ireland, seeks to maintain and improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system as a whole. Measures in hand include responsibility for an administrative time limits scheme, research commissioned in conjunction with other criminal justice agencies on the time taken to investigate and process prosecutions, and, facilitating work by inter-agency working groups tackling delay issues.

Under the administrative time limits scheme, an overall time limit is set for custody cases of 10 months from first remand before the Magistrates' Court to arraignment at the Crown Court. Within this scheme, time limits are set for individual stages; performance in these stages will depend on various criminal justice agencies including the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Northern Ireland Court Service and not solely the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions. The overall target from receipt of a police investigation file by the Director to committal for trial to the Crown Court is 97 days. In 1996, this was met in 73 per cent. of scheduled cases and 86 per cent. of non-scheduled cases respectively.

A number of cases arising in Northern Ireland are of a particularly complex nature, whose investigation and preparation is necessarily prolonged. Nevertheless, it is vital to continue to explore means of avoiding delay. My Department, in conjunction with others more directly involved in the criminal justice process, is continuing to investigate ways in which delay can be addressed at every stage.