Page last updated at 17:29 GMT, Thursday, 9 February 2012

Justice Committee

Prison officers who took part in a staff exit scheme could still apply to become custody officers under a new wave of recruitment, MLAs were told, on 9 February 2012.

Prison Service staff were briefing the justice committee on the prison reform process.

Jim Wells of the DUP asked Ronnie Armour, the director of human resources, whether a prison officer could take a £100,000 pay-off and an £18,000 pa pension and still apply for the new jobs.

Mr Armour confirmed that this was so.

The director-general of the service, Colin McConnell, said employees were to make their interest in the exit scheme known by 17 February.

"Details of the uptake of that scheme will become available later this month", he explained.

Mr McConnell said "solid progress" was being made on prison reform.

Earlier, the committee was briefed by Dr Michael Maguire of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate.

Dr Maguire explained that delays in criminal cases were continuing to worsen.

He outlined his support for the policy of statutory time limits, which had been adopted by justice minister David Ford.

Mr Maguire said a radical approach was required to address delays in the justice system.

He said that the average crown court case took 439 days from charge to disposal.

His colleague, James Corrigan, identified the poor quality of files supplied by the police to the public prosecution service as an important factor in causing delays.

Michael Maguire said there was a "quite high proportion of adjournments" because cases were not ready.

The DUP's Peter Weir was concerned by the possibility of "clever" barristers deliberately "putting a spoke in the wheel".

Mr Maguire accepted that, "the ultimate sanction, which is an unacceptable sanction, is that the individual walks free".

The DUP's Jim Wells was concerned that there was a lack of democratic accountability over the introduction of time limits.

"What can we do to stop you?", he asked.

Mr Maguire said, "You can ask Maura".

Maura Campbell of the department of justice was a witness in the following session.

Paul Givan put it to Ms Campbell that MLAs were being asked to introduce statutory time limits because the department was failing.

Jim Wells was also critical of the civil service's "lax attitude".

"Nobody ever gets gets sacked," he added.

The SDLP's Alban Maginness tried to "colour in" the complexities of the problem.

He said this was not like filling cans of beans, "it is a much more complex process".

Justice committee membership

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