Crackdown on paramilitarism held back by delay to committal reforms
A recent crackdown on paramilitarism in Northern Ireland is being held back by stalled reforms to the committal process, the Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) has warned.
The collapse of Stormont has put plans to phase out the committal process on hold, leading to longer criminal cases, according to the IRC’s second report, which was published this afternoon.
The committal process was abolished for murder and manslaughter cases through the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2015, but the Department of Justice supports legislation to continue removing more criminal offences from the process until it is entirely abolished.
At present, offences most frequently linked to paramilitary groups, including terrorist offences and offences which tend to be committed by organised crime groups, remain subject to the committal process.
Individuals and organisations involved in the criminal justice system told the IRC that they regard the abolition of the committal process as “key to increasing the pace at which the justice system works in Northern Ireland”.
The “renewed focus of law enforcement on tackling paramilitary activity is adversely impacted by the additional time taken for criminal cases to be disposed of in Northern Ireland as a result of the committal process”, the paramilitarism watchdog said.
The report noted that the Criminal Justice Board wrote to Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley in December 2018 to seek assistance with the passing of committal reform legislation, but was advised that “ongoing constraints on parliamentary time” as a result of Brexit made that impossible.
In its report, the IRC said it “encourages the Secretary of State to give this matter the priority it deserves”.
Elsewhere in the report, the IRC recommends that “serious consideration should be given to establishing an agency that focusses solely on civil recovery of the proceeds of crime in Northern Ireland”.
It also calls for Unexplained Wealth Orders and other additional powers introduced under the Criminal Finances Act 2017 to be extended to Northern Ireland “as soon as possible to boost the law enforcement response to criminality”.