Justice Minister Naomi Long MLA today introduced the Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) 2020 to the Assembly.
The Bill has two main aims. Firstly, it will support victims and witnesses by removing the option of calling on them to provide oral evidence in advance of trial.
Secondly, the Bill seeks to speed up Crown Court cases by supporting the introduction of more fundamental reforms to the committal process by amending the Justice Act (NI) 2015. This will allow certain cases to be directly committed, or transferred, to the Crown Court, without first having to go through the traditional committal process.
Naomi Long said: “I want to do everything in my power to support victims of crime through every stage of their journey through the justice system. Removing the need for victims and witnesses to give oral evidence more than once reduces the potential for re-traumatising victims. Shortening the length of time taken for that journey in these most serious cases will also benefit victims and witnesses and allow justice to be delivered more quickly, benefitting the whole justice system.”
As part of this reform, all offences that are triable only on indictment will now be included. This change will contribute to the delivery of commitments arising from Fresh Start and Sir John Gillen’s report into the law and procedures in serious sexual offences, which recommended respectively that offences frequently linked to paramilitary groups, and serious sexual offences should be brought within the direct committal process.
Notes to editors:
- The Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Bill 2020 includes provisions to remove the need to call victims and witnesses to give oral evidence pretrial. It all makes amendments to the Justice Act (NI) 2015 in relation to technical out workings of direct committal including broadening offences to be included from murder/manslaughter to all offences triable only on indictment.
- Committal Reform is a priority in the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ Deal: ‘The Executive will deliver committal reform to help speed up the criminal justice system, benefiting victims and witnesses’. Recommendations for the reform of the committal process have also recently been made by the Fresh Start Panel (Recommendations A10 and A11), the Gillen Review into the law and procedures in serious sexual cases in Northern Ireland (Recommendations 7 and 110) and the 2018 Northern Ireland Audit Office report ‘Speeding up Justice: avoidable delay in the criminal justice system’ (Recommendation 3).
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