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07 September 2015

Lord Chief Justice Announces A Fundamental Review Of Civil And Family

The Lord Chief Justice said he is keen to see more community based alternatives to short custodial sentences for adult offenders.

He recognises, however, that maintaining public confidence will be important and said this can best be achieved through continuous judicial oversight. He has invited the Probation Board for Northern Ireland to consider how this type community alternative might work in practice and as a result they will be piloting a new community disposal, to be known as an Enhanced Combination Order, from 1 October in the Divisions of Newry & South Down and Ards. The aim of the new Order is to divert some of those offenders from short-term custodial sentences into a community option with a more intensive focus on rehabilitation, restorative practices and desistance.

Sir Declan said he is in no doubt that there will be many challenges ahead in the coming year, including further budget cuts and the planned rationalisation of the court estate. He noted, however, that the financial constraints also compel a critical look at the way the justice system works with a view to looking at opportunities to innovate. He felt this should include assessing the merits of a non-ministerial department to oversee the work of the courts. He noted that this model appears to have been successful in Scotland, Holland and the Republic of Ireland. He said the Judiciary in Northern Ireland has already taken on responsibility for the management of caseload and are seeking to eradicate backlogs and make better use of court sitting time:

"But we do not currently have responsibility for the management of the courts system. In other jurisdictions where the senior Judiciary have overseen the administration of court functions, they have been able to create a more integrated approach, thereby providing a more seamless service to the citizen. I believe this model could only enhance the governance and accountability of the justice system. I would therefore, encourage the Department of Justice to give serious consideration to the possibility of legislating for a non-ministerial department in the next Assembly mandate."

Sir Declan concluded his address by acknowledging the hard work and commitment of his judicial colleagues at all tiers in dealing with the huge volume of cases that pass through the courts each year.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. The full address will be published on the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service website (www.courtsni.gov.uk).