Report on criminal justice reforms

The first report on the implementation of proposed reforms to the north's judicial system has raised questions over whether the process will ever be completed.

Criminal justice is one of the areas of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement where implementation has proved extremely slow.

Following crisis talks at Weston Park in July 2001 the British government finally stated that it would finally produce a blueprint for reform of the justice system. The Justice (Northern Ireland) Act became law in July 2002.

Justice oversight commissioner Lord Clyde claimed there had been ``significant'' progress in implementing the original recommendations of the criminal justice reform group. However, doubts remain that, in particular, the reforms planned for the prosecution service will be implemented.

Lord Clyde claimed ``a very solid start on the work of implementation has been made by all those concerned in it.''

However, the report found that more needs to be done to increase the extremely low number of Catholics employed within the British government's criminal justice department in the North. The report also highlighted the fact that the prison service remained predominantly Protestant.

The Public Prosecution Service, formerly known as the Director for Public Prosecutions (DPP), failed to provide the oversight commissioner with figures for the number of Catholic it employed.

The oversight commissioner also said that some of the proposed recommendations made by the Criminal Justice Review Group (CJRG) could not be initiated because of the continued suspension of devolved powers.

``Some of the recommendations are so closely linked with the devolution of the criminal justice system that they cannot be fully implemented until that step is taken,'' he said.

``At this time devolution of the criminal justice system still remains uncertain.''

Speaking after a meeting with Lord Clyde earlier this week, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly questioned the oversight commissioner's ability to ensure that the CJRG's recommendations will be implemented in full.

``The oversight commissioner's appointment is for three years only,'' Mr Kelly said.

``The DPP has stated it will take longer than that to implement the changes to the DPP's department as laid out in the justice bill.''

Sinn Féin raised the issue of symbols and emblems within court buildings with Lord Clyde. Mr Kelly warned that the display of emblems in court buildings conflicted with the legal requirements for a neutral working environment within the north's courts.

Sinn Féin also raised the case of John Boyle which is currently going though a Judicial Review. John Boyle was convicted wrongly and served a long sentence on the basis of documents falsified by the RUC police.

Said Kelly: ``While the DPP accepts that falsification of evidence took place he has refused to prosecute those involved and has also refused to give reasons why.

``Cases such as these undermine public confidence in the ability of the DPP to be truly independent and therefore raises questions about the British Governments will to achieve a new and accountable justice system.''

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© 2004 Irish Republican News