Minutes of Proceedings
Date: Thursday, 09 May 2013
Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings
The meeting commenced at 2.02 p.m. in public session.
On behalf of the Committee the Chairman thanked Kevin Marks who was moving to another post in the Assembly for his work for the Committee and welcomed Marianne Doherty to the Committee team.
2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 2 May 2013
The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 2 May 2013.
3. Matters Arising
i The Committee considered a draft letter seeking views on the likely impact of the totality of the Department of Justice's proposed package of changes to legal aid and a list of key stakeholders to which the letter would be sent.
Agreed: The Committee agreed the draft letter and list of key stakeholders and a response date for submissions of 14 June 2013.
ii The Chairman advised Members that an oral briefing by departmental officials on the June Monitoring Round, final savings delivery plans and provisional outturn figures for 2012/13 was scheduled for the meeting on 30 May 2013.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request that information on spend data, broken down across all function areas and organisations, and the outputs associated with the spend should be included in the Department of Justice written briefing papers for that session.
iii The Chairman advised Members that the briefing on the results of the consultation on the future regulation of the private security industry, scheduled for the meeting on 23 May, would be in writing with an oral briefing scheduled when the proposals on the way forward were available for the Committee's consideration.
iv The Chairman informed Members that during the visit to the Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre on 8 May 2013, which had been very useful and interesting, the need for Independent Sexual Violence Advisors to be in place as soon as possible was raised.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request information from the Department of Justice on the timescale for the appointment of the Advisors and the reasons why they had not been in place to coincide with the Centre becoming operational.
2.08 p.m. Mr Seán Lynch joined the meeting.
2.08 p.m. Ms Rosaleen McCorley joined the meeting.
4. Briefing by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland on the proposal to add the PSNI to the list of organisations to which guidance is issued under Section 8 of the Justice (NI) Act 2004
The Chairman informed Members that the Attorney General for Northern Ireland was unable to attend the Committee meeting and the oral briefing on his proposal to include the PSNI on the list of organisations to which Section 8 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2004 applies had therefore been postponed and would be rescheduled for a later date.
5. Briefing on the Current Position on the Review of How the Statutory Discount Rate is Set
Siobhan Broderick, Deputy Director, Civil Justice Policy and Legislation Division, and Jane Maguire, Head of Family Justice, Access to Justice Directorate, Department of Justice, joined the meeting at 2.06 p.m.
Officials outlined the current position regarding the Review of how the Statutory Discount Rate is set and the reasons for the length of time it is taking to complete the Review.
2.17 p.m. MrPatsy McGlone joined the meeting.
A question and answer session followed covering issues including: the decline in the yields of Index-Linked Gilts; the difficulties being experienced by claimants as a result of the present economic conditions; the position faced by claimants with on-going cases given the outcome of the Review is unknown; the timescale for a decision being made on the Statutory Discount Rate and who will make that decision; why there are no analysts within the Northern Ireland Civil Service who have the required expertise to assess the actuarial issues covered in the consultation responses; who will advise the Minister of Justice when making his decision on the Statutory Discount Rate given the lack of expertise; the importance of setting a Statutory Discount Rate that reflects current economic conditions; and the option of making periodical payments for damages.
The Chairman thanked the officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Lord Chancellor to seek clarification of when the analysis of the responses to the consultation on the review of how the Statutory Discount Rate is set would be completed.
The Committee agreed to move agenda item 5, Briefing by Assembly Researcher on Civil Legal Aid, to later in the meeting.
6. G8 Summit – Necessary Legislative Provisions to Enable Efficient Processing of Court Business
The Committee noted the Department of Justice proposals to make two Orders under powers conferred by Articles 3(1) of the County Courts (Northern Ireland) Order 1980 to amalgamate five of the seven county court divisions so that the expected significant increase in court business as a result of the G8 Summit could be dealt with in alternative court venues outside the current divisions where necessary. The first Order would reduce the total number of divisions from seven to three from 10 June 2013 and the second would reinstate the status quo by putting seven county court divisions back in place on 19 July 2013.
7. SL1: The County Court (Amendment No.2) Rules (NI) 2013
The Committee considered a proposal by the Department of Justice to make a Statutory Rule to amend an error in Form 19 of the 1981 County Court Rules and clarify that the jurisdiction of the County Courts to deal with applications relating to legacies remains at £15,000.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed Statutory Rule.
8. Prison Review Oversight Group – Quarterly Summary Report and Annual Report (February 2012 - February 2013)
The Committee considered the latest quarterly update Report by the Prison Review Oversight Group and its first Annual Report covering February 2012 to February 2013 which the Independent Members of the Oversight Group wished to discuss with the Committee.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Independent Members of the Prison Review Oversight Group should attend a meeting to discuss the Annual Report before summer recess.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request a copy of the evaluation report on the Supervised Activity Order pilot projects in Newry and Lisburn from the Department of Justice.
9. Extension of Unduly Lenient Sentencing Provisions to Fraudulent Excise Evasion for Fuel and Tobacco - draft consultation document
The Committee considered proposals by the Department of Justice to undertake a consultation on the extension of unduly lenient sentencing provisions to fraudulent excise evasion for fuel and tobacco.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation to take place and that it would consider the matter further when the results of the consultation are available.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request information from the Department of Justice on what legislative vehicle it intended to use to take forward any changes.
10. Commencement of Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 and Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 Provisions
The Committee noted that the Minister of Justice had signed two Commencement Orders which would bring the examination of witnesses and defendants through a registered intermediary into operation for the purpose of the pilot Registered Intermediaries Schemes which would begin on Monday 13 May and would apply to offences that are triable only on indictment, have occurred in the local government district of Belfast and are dealt with at the Crown Court sitting in Belfast.
11. A Legal Action involving Nuala O'Loan and Paul Givan and UTV
The issue of a legal action involving Nuala O'Loan and Paul Givan and UTV was raised and the Chairman of the Committee clarified that his statement that was read into the Court was available from the Committee Clerk.
12. Briefing by Assembly Researcher: Civil Legal Aid
Assembly Researcher, Fiona O'Connell, joined the meeting at 2.33 p.m.
Ms O'Connell presented the key findings of her research paper on the position and issues in relation to civil legal aid in other jurisdictions including comparative information on legal aid expenditure and answered questions on a range of issues including the reasons for the increase in the volume of Children Order/Family cases; the reasons for the overall increase in volume and cost of civil legal aid cases; and the workload and cost comparisons between Northern Ireland and other United Kingdom jurisdictions.
Ms O'Connell agreed to provide further information, if available, on any correlation between the impact of the economic recession/reduced incomes and an increase in use of legal aid.
The Chairman thanked Ms O'Connell for the briefing and she left the meeting.
i. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Minister of Justice would issue two requisition authorisations, under section 29 of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007, for land at Gublusk, Enniskillen, to enable an effective policing operation for the G8 summit.
ii. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice confirming that the Lands Tribunal for Northern Ireland does not produce an Annual Report and including relevant extracts from the NI Courts and Tribunals Service Business Plan and Annual Report and Resource Accounts in respect of the Lands Tribunal's business.
iii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice detailing the schedule for publication of the NI Courts and Tribunals Service judicial statistics quarterly bulletins for the period January to March 2013.
2.58 p.m. Mr Raymond McCarthy left the meeting.
iv. The Committee noted an update from the Department of Justice on the progress made since the introduction of a minimum annual threshold on the number of disclosure applications an organisation is required to submit to retain its Registered Body status with AccessNI.
v. The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that it would launch the Rural Crime Unit, in conjunction with the PSNI and NFU Mutual, at the Balmoral Show on Thursday 16 May 2013 and asking that the correspondence be forwarded to the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development.
vi. The Committee noted the Criminal Justice Inspection report entitled 'An inspection of Community Supervision by the Probation Board of Northern Ireland'.
vii. The Committee considered an invitation from the University of Ulster to a seminar on Women, Peace and Security hosted by the Institute for Research in Social Sciences, the Government of Canada and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Wednesday 15 May 2013 at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that Members should advise the Committee Clerk if they wished to attend the seminar.
viii. The Committee considered a response from the Association of British Insurers in relation to car crime and personal injury claims by PSNI officers.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Policing Board requesting an up-date on the current position following its letter of 7 February 2013.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request information from the Department of Justice on the approach adopted by the Criminal Injury section of the Compensation Agency if a case was presented that a motor vehicle had been used as a weapon to injure an officer.
ix. The Committee considered further correspondence from a Mr and Mrs Shaw asking that the Committee for Justice investigates the operation of the courts in relation to their case and again requesting a meeting with the Committee.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to respond to Mr and Mrs Shaw indicating that, as stated in previous correspondence, it would not be appropriate for it to consider the matter further.
x. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister requesting that Department of Justice officials brief the Committee on 22 May 2013 on the proposal to include relevant provisions in its Public Service Ombudsman Bill relating to changes to the NI Judicial Appointments Ombudsman.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Department of Justice.
xi. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Minister of Justice, the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable would announce, on 9 May 2013, the PSNI's operational plans for the G8 Summit taking place on 17 and 18 June 2013 at the Lough Erne Resort in Fermanagh.
xii. The Committee considered correspondence to the Minister of Justice from a Mr Houston regarding Injury on Duty Awards for former police officers who are over 65 years of age.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request a response from the Department of Justice on the issues raised.
14. Chairman's Business
The Chairman advised Members that he had accepted an invitation to an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Youth Justice Agency and publication of the Agency's Community Engagement Strategy, Corporate Plan and Victims Charter on Wednesday 22 May 2013.
15. Any other business
i. The issue of a recent court case in which the defendant was acquitted after the use of DNA/forensic evidence was called into question was raised.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Public Prosecution Service regarding the approach taken in relation to the use of forensic and DNA evidence in such cases, the shortcomings highlighted in this particular case and the implications for the use of such evidence in future cases.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request details of the costs associated with the case from the Department of Justice and any comments it wished to make about the use of forensic and DNA evidence in such cases.
ii. The issue of the harmonisation of pay increases and pay progression between staff in the NI Legal Services Commission and the Department of Justice was raised.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request information on the current position and the reasons for any discrepancies from the Department of Justice
16. Date and time of next meeting
The next meeting will take place on Thursday 16 May 2013 at 2.00 pm in HM Prison Magilligan, Limavady.
The meeting was adjourned at 3.10 p.m.
Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
16 May 2013