North: Nearly 2,500 miss court appearances

Two and a half thousand defendants failed to turn up for court appearances in the North last year, it was revealed today.

With warrants of arrest issued for the no-shows, the criminal justice agencies have launched new strategies to drive down the numbers.

Even though the levels are lower than in England and Wales, offenders were accused of gridlocking the system.

Democratic Unionist MLA Ian Paisley Jr said: “These figures indicate that there are some who deliberately abuse the process and don’t even appear in court when lawfully summonsed.”

The Northern Ireland Court Service compiled figures for non-attendances following the publication of a National Audit Office Report.

Analysis showed that 2,459 bench or arrest warrants were issued in the magistrates’ courts during 2004.

That equated to 4.6% of all defendants and included those who had more than one notice against them.

In the Crown Court 46 warrants were issued – 2.2% of defendants.

Non-appearances appear to be even higher in England and Wales, where 15% of defendants failed to show for at least one hearing in 2002.

Efforts to reduce the problem in the North include introducing the offence of absconding on bail and giving defendants pre-court information literature with their summonses.

Despite Northern Ireland’s favourable record, Mr Paisley insisted improvements were still needed.

“Failure to appear slows down the entire justice process,” the North Antrim MLA said.

“It prevents due process and leads to costly and helpful delays.

“It is crucial that the police and the legal profession do everything they can to ensure that these costly delays are avoided.”

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