Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 01 March 2012

Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings

The meeting commenced at 2.04 p.m. in public session.

1.  Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2.  Draft minutes of the meeting held on 23 February 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 23 February 2012.

3.  Matters Arising

i.  The Committee gave further consideration to a Criminal Justice Inspectorate draft Inspection programme for 2012 – 2015 provided by Dr Michael Maguire.  

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to Dr Maguire recommending several areas for inclusion in the Inspection programme. 

ii.  The Committee noted an updated Forward Work Programme

iii.  The Committee noted arrangements for the visit to the Witness Care Unit in Bradford on Thursday 15 March 2012.

4.  Briefing by the Minister for Justice on the outcome of the Tommy English Murder Trial

David Ford MLA, Minister of Justice, Peter May, Director of Safer Communities and David Lavery, Director of Access to Justice, Department of Justice, joined the meeting at 2.08 p.m.

The Minister briefed the Committee on accountability issues relevant to the prosecution of criminal cases including the trial concerning the murder of Tommy English. 

2.19 p.m. Mr Eastwood joined the meeting.

2.23 p.m. Mr McCrea joined the meeting.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as what measures are required to ensure a public response is available from the relevant organisations in cases such as the one discussed; whether there is a need to review the relevant legislation; the definition of judicial independence and the need for clarity, particularly in relation to the role of politicians in questioning or commenting on the outcome of trials; the issue of public confidence in the justice system; the need for clarity around the role of the oversight panel for the police investigation; the accountability of the Public Prosecution Service; and the likely cost of the trial to the public purse.

The Minister of Justice undertook to provide further information to the Committee on a range of issues.    

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the Minister and officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to write to the Minister of Justice on the issues raised during the briefing.  

5.  Briefing by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland on the Review of Judicial Appointments in Northern Ireland

The Attorney General for Northern Ireland, Mr John Larkin QC, joined the meeting at 3.24 p.m.

The Attorney General briefly outlined his views on the current arrangements for judicial appointments and removals in Northern Ireland.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including the merit principle and how merit is defined; the competence based process and the need for flexibility; the process for appointments to the Court of Appeal; the merits of exploring the possibility of the Legislature having a role in the appointment process; the transparency, cost and accountability of NIJAC; a proposed model involving the Office of the Lord Chief Justice; and models used in America and Germany.  

4.02 p.m. Mr Eastwood left the meeting.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the Attorney General for the briefing and he left the meeting.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to commission a research paper on the models used in America and Germany for judicial appointments.  

4.22 p.m. Mr McCartney left the meeting.

6.  Results of the consultation exercise on the Review of Access to Justice

The Committee considered the results of the consultation exercise on the Review of Access to Justice provided by the Department and noted that the Minister of Justice will be producing a formal response to the Review findings and recommendations by June 2012.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed that it will scrutinise the Minister’s draft programme which will outline the various projects to be taken forward in relation to the Review of Access to Justice when it is available. 

7.  Proposals for the Commencement of Articles 19 and 20 of the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008

The Committee considered a proposal from the Minister of Justice to commence Article 19 (early conditioned release on licence re certain categories of prisoner) and Article 20 (release on compassionate grounds in exceptional circumstances) of the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed that an oral briefing by Prison Service officials on Articles 19 and 20 should be scheduled to assist consideration of this matter.

8.  Review of the Compensation Agency

The Committee noted draft terms of reference provided by the Department of Justice for a review of the Compensation Agency and welcomed the fact that the Review will take into account issues arising from the Committee’s Victims and Witnesses Inquiry that relate to compensation matters.

4.31 p.m. Mr McCartney rejoined the meeting.

9.  SL1 – Reform of Legal Representation at the Crown Court – Assignment of 2 Counsel

The Committee considered the text of a draft Statutory rule relating to the assignment of two counsel to a defendant in a Crown Court and previous information provided on the proposed  Rule.  

Agreed:  The Committee agreed that it is content with the proposal for the Statutory Rule.

10.  SL1 - Civil Legal Aid Reform: Proposals for the Statutory Charge and Miscellaneous Amendments to the Legal Aid (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1965

The Committee considered further information provided by the Department of Justice on the proposed application of the Statutory Charge in “family” type proceedings where the family home is affected.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to request a copy of the draft Statutory Rule and for officials to attend a meeting to answer questions on this aspect of the proposals.

4.35 p.m. Mr Lynch left the meeting.

11.  Correspondence

i. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee’s request for an update on the dispute in Roe House, H.M Prison Maghaberry.

ii. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel regarding a review of budget allocations for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice seeking clarification of the likely implications of the Review on its budget and when information will be provided to the Committee.

iii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for the Environment regarding the cost of car insurance and continuous insurance enforcement.

iv. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for the Environment regarding the handling of hoax calls and its view that a formal partnership should be established between the PSNI and the NI Fire and Rescue Service in relation to this issue.

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the PSNI for consideration.

v. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety regarding a revised date for its proposed visit to Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the request to the Department of Justice to make the necessary arrangements for the visit.

Agreed: Members agreed to advise the Committee Clerk if they wish to attend the visit.

12.  Chairman’s Business

None.

13.  Any other business

None.

14.  Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 8 March at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

4.37 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
8 March 2012

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