Thursday, 26 February 2004

Questions (158)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

157 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the extent backlogs are caused in the courts by failure to complete a book of evidence or other reasons; the extent he can address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6497/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The prosecution of offences is a matter primarily for the Director of Public Prosecutions and, as Minister, I have no direct role. I have a general responsibility for the efficient working of the criminal justice system but I am concerned about delays in proceedings. I invited the National Crime Council to conduct a study of delays in the criminal justice system and I met the council with a view to expediting the development.

Delays in bringing cases to trial can, on occasion, be caused by a failure on the part of the prosecution to complete books of evidence in the time prescribed. The report of the working group on the jurisdiction of the courts contain a recommendation that the existing 42 day period set for the service of the book of evidence is too short and that it should be extended to 90 days. The recommendation was made on the basis that the existing period is "unrealistically short in a great many cases".

The group also agreed with the view that the requirement that depositions be taken in the District Court is cumbersome and can contribute to delays in proceedings. It recommended that the Criminal Procedure Act 1967 should be amended to provide that evidence directed to be taken under section 4F of the Act, whether by way of sworn deposition or by video link, be taken before a judge of the court to which the return for trial has been made. My Department is considering both recommendations.