NI to extend the use of video links within courts

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford has outlined proposals to extend the use of video links within courts.

Jul 5, 2012
By Paul Jacques
Graeme Biggar

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford has outlined proposals to extend the use of video links within courts.

Included in the options are provisions that will allow expert witnesses and witnesses from outside the UK to give evidence via live video link, rather than having to appear in person and to allow committal proceedings without the defendant having to leave prison.

The provisions are part of the minister’s agenda to reduce delay in the justice system.

“Delivery of a faster, fairer justice system is one of the core themes of work within my department and I am committed to improving the current arrangements,” said Mr Ford. “Criminal justice agencies have been working together to address the causes of delay at different stages of the justice process and are considering a number of proposals to address blockages in the system.

“Live link facilities are already available for a range of cases and my department has identified a number of other areas for action which will help speed up the justice system.”

The consultation runs until September 13 and identifies three key areas for extension:

In terms of witnesses:

•an adjustment to allow expert witnesses on behalf of the Forensic Science Agency for Northern Ireland (FSNI) and certain Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers to give evidence by live link as the rule rather than the exception; and

•an adjustment to allow for witnesses from outside the UK to give evidence in Northern Ireland in all magistrates’ courts business.

In terms of court/court-related proceedings:

•an ability to hold committal proceedings by live link (a wider review of committal reform is underway);

•an ability for parole commissioners to conduct oral hearings by live link; and

•an ability for breach proceedings on behalf of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) and the Youth Justice Agency (YJA) where an offender has already been returned to custody detention to be dealt with by live link.

And in the health/justice field:

•along with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), new provision for live links between courts and psychiatric hospital units for ‘Part 2’ civil patients in detention to mirror the provisions already in existence for ‘Part 3’ patients.

Police forces in England and Wales have been trialling live links courts technology and virtual courts since 2009, together with trials of electronic case files as part of the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) ‘Transforming Through Technology (T3)’ programme that aims to link police and CPS computer systems to allow a completely digital way of working.

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