Written Answers. - Drug Offence Prosecutions.

Seamus Brennan


508 Mr. S. Brennan asked the Minister for Justice the proposals, if any, she has to speed up District Court and other court proceedings to prevent persons charged with drug and other offences from continuing in business for such lengthy periods after being arrested and charged; the plans, if any, she has to speed up forensic testing of seized drugs and other matters to assist the Garda and the Director of Public Prosecutions in bringing appropriate criminal charges at an earlier date than at present; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16694/96]

In line with the commitment given in the Programme for Government, the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995, introduced measures to tackle the problem of delays by providing for an increase in the maximum number of judges of all courts and also introduced administrative and procedural reforms which have simplified and speeded up the processing of cases through the courts which will, in due course, enhance the overall efficiency of the courts system.

For example, the 1995 Act does away with the automatic right of transfer of criminal cases from provincial Circuit Courts to Dublin. Such transfers had exacerbated delays in the hearing of criminal cases in Dublin and had also proven very costly in terms of transporting gardaí and witnesses. It is also very possible that the incentive to transfer these cases was often nothing more than a wish to have the hearing of the case delayed. There can, of course, be legitimate grounds for such transfers and, therefore, the Act provides that an application to transfer a trial to Dublin will only be granted where the judge is satisfied that it would be manifestly unjust not to do so. Since the implementation of the Courts and Courts Officers Act, 1995, undue delays in the hearing of cases in the Dublin Circuit Court have been very substantially reduced.
Following the enactment of the 1995 Act, three additional High Court judges and seven additional Circuit Court judges were appointed last July. Also, I have obtained Government approval for the appointment of three additional judges to the District Court and I have asked the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board to make submissions to me regarding the filling of these additional posts. In addition, I have provided in the Courts Act, 1996, for a further increase, by three, in the maximum number of circuit court judges.
This summer I obtained the agreement of the Presidents of the High and Circuit Courts respectively for additional sittings of the Central Criminal Court in Dublin and the Circuit Court around the country and in Dublin. These extra sittings were for three additional weeks commencing on 16 September.
The position, generally, in regard to criminal cases in both the Circuit and District Courts is that it takes about three months for the case to progress to a hearing — where a case arises at the start of the vacation it may take a little longer. However, this time approximates generally with the time needed for both the defence and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to prepare their files.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which is currently before the House contains measures to streamline court procedures including a provision which will extend the existing statutory limit for remanding an accused person in custody from eight days to a maximum of 15 days on a second or subsequent appearance of the accused in court. This will mean less frequent remand hearings and, as a result, less frequent court attendances by the prosecuting Garda.
In relation to the Forensic Science Laboratory, in July this year the Government approved an increase in the overall level of the staff of the laboratory by four forensic scientists and two laboratory technicians. Procedures for filling of these new posts are at an advanced stage and these new positions will be taken up shortly. The laboratory has been provided with a range of new equipment this year to enable it to carry out the testing of seized materials as quickly as possible.