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Executive Summary: An Examination of Time Intervals in the Investigation and Prosecution of Murder and Rape Cases in Ireland from 2002 to 2004.

  1. This is a unique piece of research. It is the first ever study to examine the time intervals throughout the investigation and prosecution of serious criminal offences in Ireland. The research had three broad aims, namely to:
    • establish the typical time intervals involved in the processing of criminal cases;
    • identify any likely causes for delays; and
    • examine best practice in other jurisdictions.
    The research examined all 'murder' (1;) and 'rape' (2;) cases (over 300 cases) disposed of by the Central Criminal Court between 2002 and 2004. All of the cases were tracked from the date of the initial arrest of the suspect by the Gardaí and the report details the time the typical case took from such initial arrest until the disposal of the case by the Central Criminal Court. This executive summary contains the main findings and key recommendations arising from the research, additional findings and recommendations are contained in the main report.

  2. The Time Between Initial Arrest and Return for Trial
    In the typical (3) 'murder' case, the suspect was charged immediately after his/her arrest. It took 10 weeks for the Gardaí to complete their investigation file and forward it to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). It then took a further 17 weeks before the case was returned for trial - this included the time taken for final written directions to be received from the Office of the DPP as well as for the preparation and service of the Book of Evidence. As a result, the defendant in the typical 'murder' case was returned for trial just over six months (27 weeks) after their initial arrest and charge. The Council is recommending that, save in exceptional circumstances, defendants in all 'murder' cases should be returned for trial within six months of their initial arrest (p.19).

    When it comes to 'rape' cases, the research highlighted that, whilst the same procedures are followed, the order in which they occur differs in the typical 'murder' and 'rape' case. During the research period, in the typical 'rape' case, the suspect was arrested but not charged until 8 months (35 weeks) later. Prior to charging, the Gardaí had completed their investigation file and final directions had been received from the Office of the DPP.

    During the research period, the defendant in the typical 'rape' case was returned for trial over eleven months (50 weeks) after their initial arrest. The Council recognises that the investigation of a rape case may be a more time consuming task for the Gardaí than a murder investigation. Accordingly, the Council is recommending that, save in exceptional circumstances, defendants in all 'rape' cases should be returned for trial within six and half months of their initial arrest (p.20).

    In the meetings with professionals, it became apparent that the limited availability of sexual assault units outside of Dublin could have implications for the length of time it takes to complete a rape/sexual assault investigation. The Council is also aware that this can have negative implications for the complainant in these cases. The Council recommends that the Department of Health and Children open additional sexual assault units in major regional hospitals. Any additional, regional units which may be opened should have adequately trained staff, with the necessary forensic and medical expertise, to deal with rape/sexual assault cases (p.15).

    The Council recommends that the senior Garda Officer in charge of all murder and rape investigations and a nominated officer of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions should be responsible, in so far as is possible, for adherence to the recommended time intervals set out in the report from arrest to service of the Book of Evidence (p.20).

  3. Time Taken in the Central Criminal Court During the research period, the typical 'murder' trial commenced just over 14 months (63 weeks) after the defendant had been returned for trial. The typical 'rape' trial commenced just under 16 months (68 weeks) after the defendant had been returned for trial. In the cases examined for this research, the longest delay occurred between the listing day and the scheduled trial date.

    The Council considers that, between return for trial and the start of the trial, 'murder' and 'rape' cases should be dealt with in comparable time intervals by the Central Criminal Court. The Council recommends that, save in exceptional circumstances, all 'murder'

  4. Council's Recommended Time Intervals
    The tables below summarise the time intervals found in the typical case during the research period and the Council's recommended time intervals. During the research period, the trial in the typical 'murder' case commenced almost 21 months (90 weeks) after the defendant was initially arrested by the Gardaí. The Council recommends that, save in exceptional circumstances, the trial in all 'murder' cases should commence within 12 months (52 weeks) of the defendant's initial arrest (p.10).


    Typical and Recommended Time Intervals in 'Murder' Cases (Number of Weeks)

      Arrest to Return For Trial Return to Trial to Start of Trial Total Time - Arrest
    to Start of Trial
    Typical Case During the Research Period 27 63 90
    Council’s Recommended Time Interval 26 26 52

    During the research period, the trial in the typical ‘rape’ case commenced 27 months (118 weeks) after the defendant was initially arrested by the Gardaí. The Council recommends that, save in exceptional circumstances, the trial in all ‘rape’ cases should commence within 12 and a half months (54 weeks) of the defendant’s initial arrest (p.10).

    Typical and Recommended Time Intervals in ‘Rape’ Cases (Number of Weeks)

      Arrest to Return For Trial Return to Trial to Start of Trial Total Time - Arrest
    to Start of Trial
    Typical Case During the Research Period 50 68 118
    Council’s Recommended Time Interval 28 26 54


    Implementation of the Council’s recommended time intervals would reduce considerably the time between arrest and trial commencement in ‘murder’ and ‘rape’ cases.
  5. Improvements in the Central Criminal Court since the Research Period
    As highlighted earlier, during the research period, the longest delay occurred between the listing day and the scheduled trial date. Since the research period, the situation with regard to the listing of cases for trial in the Central Criminal Court has improved significantly. In 2002, the waiting time between return for trial and trial was 18 months. By comparison, cases listed in March, 2006 were scheduled for trials to start on dates in October and November, 2006 (p.21).

  6. Comparisons with England and Wales and Northern Ireland
    The research examined time intervals in the Crown Courts in England and Wales and Northern Ireland as well as examples of best practice from these other jurisdictions. It was not possible to obtain comparable data for the times between initial arrest and return for trial but the Council did succeed in getting valuable information and insights on the phase between return for trial and disposal of the case. It is important to note that different processes are followed in these other jurisdictions and this may impact upon the time taken at different stages. This data comparison is based upon average durations, as opposed to median or typical case values, as figures are published in averages in the other jurisdictions. In addition to this, the average figure for Ireland is greater than for the typical case due to presence of a small number of cases which took a particularly long time.

    On average, during the research period, cases took significantly longer in Ireland (71 weeks) than in either England and Wales (26 weeks) or Northern Ireland (15 weeks) to progress between return for trial and the first main hearing . If the Council's recommended time intervals were adhered to, the first main hearing would occur within six months (26 weeks) of the return for trial in the great majority of cases - this would be comparable to the time interval in England and Wales (p.40).

  7. Other Key Findings and Recommendations
    1. The research findings revealed that only five per cent of 'murder' cases and 32 per cent of 'rape' cases conformed to the statutory 42 day rule between first District Court appearance and service of the Book of Evidence. The time intervals recommended by the Council have implications for Rule 7(1) of the District Court (Criminal Justice) Rules, 1997, as amended. The Council recommends that consideration be given to reviewing this Rule in line with the research findings and recommended time intervals (p.20).

    2. The professionals discussed the inadequacies of the criminal legal aid scheme as currently operated. In particular, they noted that Counsel are not paid for the early stages of preparation of the case (for, example, reading the brief, holding consultations with the defendant, providing advice). The Council recommends that the scheme be reviewed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform with a view to providing payment for the early stages of preparation of the case (p.29).

    3. The Council notes the current practice whereby the Central Criminal Court sits in various provincial locations. The Council recommends that this practice continue to be utilised as appropriate (p.24).

    4. The Council accepts the professionals' view that there could be benefits to dealing with certain issues through pre-trial hearings. In addition to this, the Council notes and endorses the findings of the Working Group on the Jurisdiction of the Courts (the Fennelly report) in relation to pre-trial hearings. The Council is of the opinion that the introduction of pre-trial hearings would lead to shorter and possibly fewer jury trials and would assist in making the court process more efficient for all users. The Council recommends, therefore, that consideration be given to the introduction of pre-trial hearings (p.25).

    5. The research found that 71 per cent of jury trials commenced as scheduled. One of the reasons identified in the research that trials did not commence as scheduled was that no Court was available. The Council recommends that there should always be sufficient judges with registrars and appropriate resources available to hear all criminal trials which have been scheduled to commence in the Central Criminal Court in a given week. The Council recognises that this may have resource implications for the non-criminal business caseload of the High Court (p.28).

    6. The data collection process for this research was a complex, resource intensive and lengthy exercise as the necessary data was not readily available electronically. The Council recommends that all of the criminal justice agencies should ensure that key information, including statistics on their respective caseloads, is electronically collated, maintained and published. The information collated should, inter alia, allow for the production of overviews of caseloads and be capable of monitoring the time taken at each stage of the investigation and prosecution process (p.3).

    7. Through the meetings with professionals, as well as the data collection exercise, it became apparent that it can be difficult to identify a particular case due to the absence of any common numbering system across all criminal justice system agencies. The Council recognises the individual nature of many of the criminal justice agencies and the independent structures they operate under. The Council recommends the introduction of a common case numbering system across all criminal justice agencies. This would facilitate communication and co-operation between the agencies (p.31).

Footnotes:

  1. Murder’ includes charges of murder and attempted murder
  2. ‘Rape’ includes charges of rape, attempted rape and aggravated sexual assault.
  3. The typical case is based upon the middle case. For example, in the range 5, 6, 6, 7, 8, 10, 15, the middle (median) case is 7. Hence, when
    one is considering time intervals, half of all cases would be completed within the typical time interval or less time and half of the cases would
    take longer than the typical time interval. As the middle (median) case is less influenced by extreme cases which took a very short or a very long
    time, it is the preferable value to use in relation to time intervals.
  4. The first main hearing is either the start of the trial or the hearing at which the defendant pleads guilty.

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