I am aware that the Deputy has raised concerns about the length of## time some prisoners in Northern Ireland spend on remand and on bail prior to facing trial. Officials from my Department based in Belfast have engaged with the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Department of Justice in relation to this issue.
The NI Department of Justice Prison Population report from September 2019 notes that the proportion of prisoners on remand has increased annually over the past number of years, with 30.1% of prisoners being on remand in the 2018/2019 financial year. This follows on from an NI Audit Office report published in March 2018 which showed that there are significant delays in delivering justice in Northern Ireland. The average length of time from the reporting of a crime to completion of Crown Court proceedings is 515 days, which is twice as long as in England and Wales. The report found that the progress of cases through the system is punctuated by practices and processes that are not efficient and that work against the timely delivery of justice. The report also notes the detrimental impact this has on victims, defendants and witnesses.
A number of recommendations were made in the NI Audit Office report which would shorten the time spent on remand, including the removal of the committal process. Implementing such reforms would require a locally elected Justice Minister to be in place as part of a restored Executive, which is an immediate priority of the Government.
There is widespread acknowledgement across the justice system in Northern Ireland that the existing processes need to be reformed and speeded up. The most recent report of the Independent Reporting Commission noted this, where they expressed concern that the efforts of the PSNI in tackling paramilitarism are hampered by the committal process and the delays which it causes. The IRC went on to echo the calls of the Audit Office in seeking that the committal process be removed.