Today my Department is launching a public consultation on Northern Ireland non-jury trial provisions contained within the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007. Sections 1 to 9 of the 2007 Act provide for a system of non-jury trial, applicable in particular circumstances, in Northern Ireland. These are temporary provisions which may be extended by order for a period of two years. The non-jury trial system was last extended in July 2015 and will expire on 31 July 2017 unless the “effective period” during which the provisions are in force is extended by order for a further two years.
The provisions for non-jury trial under the 2007 Act allow the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland to certify that a trial on indictment is to be conducted without a jury in a specific case, provided a strict statutory test has been met. Today in Northern Ireland, there is a strong presumption for jury trials in all cases, with less than 2% of all Crown court cases per year held without a jury. However, the severe threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism and the presence of violent paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland continues to pose risks to the criminal justice system which can necessitate non-jury trials in a small number of cases.
This Government remain fully committed to seeing an end to non-jury trials in Northern Ireland, when safe and compatible with the interests of justice. There are no limits to the number of times non-jury trial provisions under the 2007 Act may be extended. However, the temporary nature of the provisions reflects the Government’s view that this is an exceptional system that ought to be reviewed on a regular basis and be kept in force for as short a time as necessary to uphold the effective administration of justice.
The public consultation being launched today on www.gov.uk and running for a period of 12 weeks will allow us to gather the widest possible set of views on the non-jury trial provisions in Northern Ireland. The responses will be used to inform my final decision on whether to seek to extend the provisions once again in Parliament next year.