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The Northern Ireland Court Service and Restorative Justice Reports

November 3, 2009 4 comments

Restorative JusticeLast week’s Northern Ireland Court Service Annual Report (2008-09) provides backslapping bonhomie and useful statistics on the operation of the Courts in Northern Ireland in equal measure.

The recession’s impact on the activities of courts in this period has been particularly interesting. The relatively stable amount of business in Northern Ireland’s Crown Courts and a 6 per cent drop in cases before magistrates courts can be set against fears of rising crime rates which accompanied the economic downturn. Unsurprisingly, however, the civil courts have made up for this shortfall, with an overall 14 per cent rise in caseload largely being accounted for by a 77 per cent rise in mortgage cases.

Nonetheless, in recognition of the degree to which the Court Service has tackled these challenges, the Report notes that ‘all 21 courthouses in Northern Ireland achieve the new Cabinet Office “Customer Service Excellence” Standard’, the successor to the Chartermark standard for public service providers (p.6). As Jack Straw noted in his response to the report, these awards provide ‘clear testimony to the positive experience of court users and the service delivered by front-line staff’ (p. 7). Nonetheless this award scheme is, like its predecessor, dogged by the reality that, even if its performance dramatically declined, the people of Northern Ireland would have no alternative to the Court Service as presently organised (and that lobbying for reform would still have to go through Westminster as policing and justice spheres are yet to be devolved).

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