DPP urges use of pretrial procedures to cut delays in hearing criminal cases
SIGNIFICANT delays in the hearing of criminal cases could be reduced using “effective pretrial procedures”, according to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Claire Loftus said despite some 90 per cent of defendants ultimately pleading guilty, there were year-long waiting times for Central Criminal Court cases in Dublin and nearly a year for the Circuit Court.
Speaking at the 13th national prosecutors’ conference at Dublin Castle, her first as DPP, Ms Loftus said legislation would be required for a solution to “really work” on issues of law, including admissibility of evidence.
Legislation would also ensure that both sides, not just the prosecution, focused “on the real issues in a case at an earlier stage”.
This would “speed up the processing of cases” at all stages and save “valuable court time, jurors’ time and legal costs”.
The Minister for Justice had established two committees, one with the Chief Justice, to look at various aspects of the issue and she said she looked forward to their recommendations.
The DPP also said there had only been about 30 requests from families of victims seeking the reasons for decisions not to prosecute since the policy was introduced 3½ years ago.
The office is also considering expanding that policy in relation to sexual offences.
The first solicitor to be a DPP, Ms Loftus said that nearly 12 years after her appointment as the first dedicated solicitor in the office of the DPP, the expanded office was still not housed in a single location or headquarters.
Next month, however, the directing division and part of the solicitors’ division will move to the former Department of Defence building on Infirmary Road near the Phoenix Park, Dublin.
The conference also heard the HSE had cut its legal bill by 41 per cent since the establishment of an office of legal services in 2010. Eunice O’Raw, director of legal services, said costs had been cut from €44.5 million in 2009 to €26.4 million last year.
Ms O’Raw, who served as a junior counsel at the Mahon tribunal, said the office hoped to cut costs further to €22 million, or half what they were the year before the service was established.
She said the HSE had to pay the costs of children’s representatives and awards in jury decisions and this limited its ability to cut costs.
The HSE is preparing a tender system for barristers, which will be in place by the beginning of the law term in October. All members of the Bar will be informed about the tender process.
Ms O’Raw said last year the HSE briefed 70 counsel, but this was “not ideal” because counsel might be on their side one day and on the opposite side the next. She wants to build legal expertise in a number of areas such as childcare, judicial review and social work.
Barrister Tom O’Malley, an expert on sentencing law, said it was very important the Court of Criminal Appeal in particular and the Supreme Court continued to develop principles on sentencing, “to ensure we don’t have to resort to legislation, because that very often leads to very rigid systems”.