Minutes of Proceedings
Date: Thursday, 02 May 2013
Venue: Room 30
The meeting commenced at 2.04 p.m. in closed session.
1. Legal advice in relation to the provision of information to the Committee in relation to recent legal action
Ms Alice McKelvey, Assembly Legal Adviser, attended the meeting to provide legal advice on the provision of information to the Committee in relation to recent legal action and answered Members’ questions.
The meeting moved into public session at 2.17p.m.
Apologies are detailed above.
3. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 25 April 2013
The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 25 April 2013.
4. Matters Arising
i. The Chairman advised Members that a briefing folder for the joint visit with the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety to the new Sexual Assault Referral Centre at Antrim Area Hospital on Wednesday 8 May 2013 would issue on Tuesday 7 May and Members who had not yet done so should advise the Clerk as soon as possible if they wished to participate in the visit
ii. The Chairman informed Members that the visit to the Public Prosecution Service and the Witness Care Unit would take place on Thursday 13 June from noon until
2.00 p.m. with the weekly Committee meeting commencing at 2.30 p.m. on that date in Parliament Buildings.
iii. The Chairman advised Members that the departmental up-date briefing on the implementation of the Youth Justice Review would be rescheduled from 30 May to 4 July 2013 to ensure the Criminal Justice Inspection review of progress would be available for Members’ consideration.
5. Briefing by the Lord Chief Justice
The Rt. Hon Sir Declan Morgan, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Ms Laurene McAlpine, Principal Private Secretary, Office of the Lord Chief Justice and Mr Edward Gorringe, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission joined the meeting at 2.20 p.m.
The Lord Chief Justice briefed the Committee on a range of issues.
A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including:
Judicial appointments and increasing the pool of women candidates
The actions that have been taken to address the issues that emerged from the Rewarding Merit in Judicial Appointments study which was undertaken by the School of Law at Queen’s University; the steps being taken to ensure future female representation in the High Court; what can be done to tackle the perceptions regarding the ethos of the back corridor of the High Court; what lessons can be learnt from other jurisdictions that have females representation in the higher courts; whether targets have been set in relation to female representation in the higher court tiers and whether positive discrimination has been considered as an option; whether women have applied for recent vacancies in the High Court; and what lessons can be learnt from organisations outside the judiciary that have females in senior positions.
Avoidable delay in the Crown Court and Magistrates’ Courts
The main causes of avoidable delay in the criminal justice system; whether proposed legislative changes will make a significant difference; how the various criminal justice organisations co-operate and work together to address the issues; what action the Committee for Justice could take to support progress in reducing avoidable delay; the cost of avoidable delay in the criminal justice system; the potential impact of the reduction in the number of court rooms on avoidable delay; how performance figures in Northern Ireland compare to other parts of the United Kingdom; the concept of a non-Ministerial Department to run the Court Service and estate; and the extent of recent progress.
The work of the Lord Chief Justice’s Sentencing Group/Increasing understanding of the role of the Judiciary
How public confidence in sentencing could be enhanced; how lay members of the Sentencing Group are selected and whether the criteria for applicants could discourage some from applying; whether membership of the Sentencing Group is on a fixed-term basis; sentencing for fuel laundering crimes; work being undertaken to improve public understanding of bail decisions; how to find the equilibrium between judicial independence and isolation; the courts’ boundaries and the primacy of the legislature on sensitive social issues; the impact of the Human Rights Act on the status quo; the impact of the Human Rights Act on how Judges judge and approach cases; what cognisance the courts take of the views of the legislature; and the process for validating judicial independence.
The County Court judicial complement
The workload pressures being faced by County Court judges; the progress being made with the business case to increase the number of County Court judges and whether the estimated requirement was the minimum needed; the impact of the increase in the civil jurisdiction of the County Court and the general jurisdiction of District Judges; how the adequacy of the entire court estate would be examined and whether the provision of consultation rooms would be included; and the type and level of liaison/cooperation that takes place between social services and the courts in relation to family cases.
2.59 p.m. Mr Jim Wells left the meeting.
3.45 p.m. Mr Patsy McGlone left the meeting.
3.39 p.m. Mr William Humphrey left the meeting.
The briefing was recorded by Hansard.
The Chairman thanked the Lord Chief Justice and his officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.
6. Legislative Consent Motion: Amendments to Court Rule Making Procedures in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill
The Committee noted an update provided by the Department of Justice on the proposed Legislative Consent Motion to allow the inclusion of amendments to Court Rule-Making Procedures in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to ensure that all Rules are subject to the same level of Assembly scrutiny.
7. Policing and Community Safety Partnerships – Guidance for Designated Bodies
The Committee noted guidance prepared by the Department of Justice, in conjunction with the Policing Board, regarding the participation of designated bodies on Policing and Community Safety Partnerships and District Policing and Community Safety Partnerships including their roles and responsibilities and voting rights.
8. Criminal Record Checks - Recent Court of Appeal Judgement in England and Wales
The Committee considered additional information provided by the Department of Justice on how the system of disclosure of information in Northern Ireland compares to the system in England and Wales and the exact implications for Northern Ireland of the recent Court of Appeal Judgement in England and Wales in relation to criminal record checks.
The Committee noted that the Minister of Justice intended to consult on options for a filtering system for dealing with old and minor convictions and cautions and that a recent decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court not to accept a referral in the case of MM v the UK in which the European Court of Human Rights concluded in 2012 that the retention and disclosure of caution information by the RUC/PSNI was, in that case, a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights would have implications for the disclosure of both conviction and caution information.
i. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice clarifying the powers used by police in relation to the closure of roads, waterways etc. prior to the Commencement of Article 12 of the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.
ii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing the terms of reference for an independent inspection to be carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into the recommendations arising from an audit carried out by the Association of Chief Police Officers into the retention of human tissues.
iii. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice advising that it was consulting with the Public Prosecution Service and the Police Service of Northern Ireland on how to take forward the issuing of public guidance on the use of reasonable force to protect against crime.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department requesting to be kept up-dated on progress in relation to this matter.
iv. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice providing additional information on full body search techniques and technological alternatives employed in other jurisdictions.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department requesting regular up-dates on the consideration of technological alternatives to full body searches.
v. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice enclosing two reports used to inform the proposals contained in the draft consultation document entitled ‘Proposals for the Reform of Financial Eligibility for Civil and Criminal Legal Aid’.
vi. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to its request for details of the proposed legislative programme for the next three years.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request details of all the policy areas that the Faster, Fairer Justice Bill and the Judicature Bill would cover and also a list of subordinate legislation for the remainder of the Assembly mandate to be included in the next update.
vii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice enclosing a copy of the CONTEST Annual Report, which is the Westminster Government’s strategy for countering terrorism.
viii. The Committee noted the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland report entitled ‘A corporate governance inspection of the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland.’
ix. The Committee considered correspondence from a Ms Taylor in relation to the NICS Equal Pay Claim and PSNI civilian staff.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to advise Ms Taylor that it would discuss the issues raised in her correspondence with departmental officials at the oral briefing on the matter which was scheduled for the meeting on 23 May 2013.
x. The Committee considered a response from the NI Policing Board to issues raised in correspondence from the Chairman of Lisburn Policing and Community Safety Partnership about the non-attendance of members at meetings and the policy in relation to the payment of expenses for a maximum of 20 meetings.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward a copy of the response to the Chairman of Lisburn Policing and Community Safety Partnership for information.
xi. The Committee noted further correspondence from a Mr and Mrs Shaw enclosing a copy of correspondence to the Minister of Justice’s Office.
xii. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment asking that a copy of the Assembly Research Paper, Public Sector Renewable Generation Uptake, be forwarded to the Department of Justice.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the information to the Department of Justice.
xiii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel advising that it would be seeking the views of the relevant Statutory Committees on the Public Service Pensions Bill which the Minister of Finance and Personnel intends to introduce in the Assembly in June 2013.
xiv. The Committee noted a summary of progress on the delivery of Department of Justice capital projects detailed in the ISNI Delivery Tracking System.
xv. The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister of Justice advising that the Prison Service Pay Review Body Ninth Report on Northern Ireland 2013 had been approved by the Finance Minister and would be presented to the Assembly on 2 May 2013 and indicating that he had decided not to pay an Environmental Allowance to Prison Service staff.
xvi. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure requesting information from the Minister of Justice regarding local competitors participating in the 2013 World Police and Fire Games.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Minister of Justice for a response on the issues raised.
10. Chairman’s Business
11. Any other business
The issue of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland was raised.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek clarification of which Committee had primacy in relation to this matter and the current position on it.
12. Date and time of next meeting
The next meeting will take place on Thursday 9 May 2013 at 2.00 pm in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.
The meeting was adjourned at 4.20 p.m.
Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
9 May 2013