Justice Minister Naomi Long has commenced legislation to reform the committal process.
From today, for all new cases brought forward preliminary investigations and mixed committals are abolished; removing the need to give oral evidence at committal hearings in magistrates’ courts.
The measures contained in the Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022, which received royal assent on 7 March 2022, will reduce the impact of giving oral evidence on victims and witnesses. It will also remove some avoidable delay in the current system.
Naomi Long said: “The commencement of this legislation brings much needed changes to the committal process.
“Since my appointment as Justice Minister, I have focused on ensuring that our laws offer the best protection they can to the most vulnerable in our society.
“These long awaited provisions will make a tangible difference to the experiences of vulnerable victims and witnesses and aid in our mission to reduce avoidable delay in the justice system.
“I have heard all too often of the impact that the prospect of having to give traumatic evidence at the committal and then again at the trial can have. This alone can understandably deter victims and vital witnesses from proceeding with a case.
“These changes will mean that for new cases brought forward from the 17 October, no victim or witness can be put on the stand to be examined and cross-examined in a committal hearing before the actual trial.
“I have said from the outset that improving the experiences of victims and witnesses encountering the justice system was my priority and I welcome this further step towards that end.”
Today’s commencement is the first phase of the implementation of measures contained in The Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022.
These provisions will abolish preliminary investigations and mixed committals for all proceedings instituted on or after 17 October.
That means, if the new legislative provisions apply, committal proceedings will only be by way of a preliminary inquiry and victims and witnesses cannot be called to give oral evidence at the committal hearing.
Further information on the changes can be found on the DOJ website at Abolition of preliminary investigations and mixed committals in the magistrates’ court | Department of Justice (justice-ni.gov.uk)
Notes to editors:
1. The new arrangements are outlined in:
- Sections 1 to 3 of, and the Schedule to, the Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022
- Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 (Commencement No. 1) Order (Northern Ireland) 2022
- The Magistrates' Courts (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2022
2. Media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office via email
3. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours’ service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted out of hours on 028 9037 8110.
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