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Persons On Remand

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 7 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many persons in Northern Ireland are currently on remand awaiting trial.

Apart from those on bail, there were on 27 January 353 persons held either on remand or awaiting trial.

Does the Minister agree that some of these have been in gaol, awaiting trial for a long time? Given that some of them at least are bound to be innocent, will he consider the possibility of ensuring that the trials are speeded up?

We are doing our best to speed up the trials. Indeed, we have managed to reduce the numbers of those on remand, or awaiting trial, from 600 two years ago, through 500 last year, down to 353 this year.

Will the Minister tell the House what is the longest period for which a person has been on remandin Northern Ireland?

The answer is more than two years, but in special circumstances in one unique case. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman giving him specific information.

Is not the average length of time spent on remand or awaiting trial between six and nine months? Ought not that to be shortened, became delay in itself can prejudice the fairness of a trial by blurring memories? Does not the Minister feel that more judges ought to be appointed urgently, so as to reduce the waiting list?

We have been considering every possible way of hastening the process. I think I am right in saying that the average is 40 weeks, which is a long time. However, the average figure is itself somewhat misleading in reality.

The real trouble, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates this, is that the sorts of cases that we are confronted with—often multiple murders, other litigants involved, other criminal charges involved—the shortage of detectives and the pressure on the judicial and criminal system in the Province, make it difficult to get things done as quickly as we would like.

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate from the answer that I gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs), we have succeeded in reducing quite dramatically the length of time and the numbers involved.