NI legal system plans 'aim for paperless courts'

| Author: Tony Imossi (Secretariat) | Filed under: General News
NI legal system plans 'aim for paperless courts'

The way courts in Northern Ireland deal with children and family disputes could be radically transformed under new proposals published on Tuesday.

New courts, with a focus on rehabilitating offenders, may also be introduced for some cases involving drugs, alcohol and domestic violence.

Mediation and an online disputes service are proposed as alternatives to court hearings.

There is also to be a much greater use of technology.

The aim is to move to paperless courts.

The recommended changes are the culmination of a two-year review of family and civil justice systems.

404 recommendations

The blueprint for reform was set out by Mr Justice Gillen in a speech to mark the opening of the new legal year at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.

"We cannot remain chained to the present," he told an audience that included judges, barristers, solicitors and others within the criminal justice system.

"The case for reform is both compelling and urgent, and we must acknowledge and apply the fresh thinking that has emerged elsewhere lest we get left behind."

He added: "Just because one group of people in the past set the frame does not mean that others in the future cannot break the mould."

Two reports published on Tuesday contain 404 recommendations for change.

The stated aims are to improve access to justice, achieve better outcomes for court users, particularly for children and young people, and create a more responsive and proportionate system that makes better use of available resources, including new technologies.

In the family sphere, approaches may include counselling, therapy and parenting programmes in a bid to make proceedings much less adversarial.

However, the pace of change is expected to reflect the centuries-old proverb that "the wheels of justice turn slowly".

While stressing the need for the courts system to embrace change, Mr Justice Gillen stressed that this would be done incrementally.

'Exceedingly fine'

Politics and finances will dictate the pace of much of the change, while some proposed changes will require ministerial approval.

At this stage it isn't clear if that will fall to locally elected members of the assembly, or direct rule ministers.

Many of the changes will require some financial investment and bids for funding have not yet been made.

Welcoming publication of the reports, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan announced the creation of a Family Justice Board and Civil Justice Council to oversee the proposed changes.

Mr Justice Gillen will hope the whole of that centuries old proverb is realised: "The wheels of justice turn slowly, but exceedingly fine."

Source:  BBC

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