Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 10 May 2012

Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings

The meeting commenced at 2.06 p.m. in open session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 3 May 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 3 May 2012.

3. Matters Arising

The Committee noted an up-dated Committee work programme for May and June 2012.

4. Up-date briefing on progress by the Department of Justice to implement the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee Report on Managing Criminal Legal Aid

Nick Perry, Permanent Secretary, Department of Justice, David Lavery, Director, Access to Justice, Department of Justice and Paul Andrews, Chief Executive, NI Legal Services Commission, joined the meeting at 2.09 p.m.

2.18 p.m. Mr Wells joined the meeting.

Mr Weir declared an interest as a non-practising Member of the Northern Ireland Bar.

Mr Anderson declared an interest as a member of the Public Accounts Committee.

The officials briefed the Committee on progress by the Department of Justice to implement the recommendations in the Public Accounts Committee report on Managing Criminal Legal Aid and answered questions on a range of issues including what attempts had been made prior to devolution to tackle the high cost of legal aid; how the new process for assigning two counsel is working and the reasons for the projected increase in savings as a result of the new Rules; the proposed voluntary inspection scheme for solicitors, the inclusion of barristers in such a scheme and the timescale for the introduction of a Statutory Scheme; what investigations are on-going in relation to suspected fraud; the timescale for the full implementation of the changes recommended in the PAC report; the NI Legal Services Commission fraud procedures; the timescale to address the causes of the accounts on legal aid expenditure being qualified due to a lack of evidence on the level of fraud incurred; the role of the Taxing Master in assessing claims and alternatives to this approach; the number of claims that had been reduced by the Taxing Master; and what action has been taken against officials given the failures of the system.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked Nick Perry and David Lavery and they left the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to send a copy of the Hansard of the evidence session to the Public Accounts Committee for information.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the NI Legal Services Commission for an analysis of legal aid claims for Very High Cost Cases submitted to the Taxing Master and the extent of the subsequent reductions that have been applied.

5. Briefing on SL1 - Civil Legal Aid Reform: Statutory Charge Phase 2

Angela Ritchie, Public Legal Services Division, Department of Justice, joined the meeting at 3.23 p.m.

The Departmental officials briefly outlined how the proposed changes to the exemptions in relation to the Statutory Charge will apply in practice and answered questions on a range of issues including the availability of legal aid for matrimonial cases in other jurisdictions; what other alternative options could be pursued to settle marital disputes prior to going to court; the inequality of arms which arises when one party has access to legal aid and the other has not; and the proposals which will come out of the Review of Access to Justice.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

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

6. Consideration of the outcome of the consultation on the Upper Age Limit for Jury Service and proposed policy changes

The Committee considered the results of the consultation on the upper age limit for jury service and the Minister of Justice’s proposals to remove the upper age limit entirely but retain the right to excusal for persons aged 70 and over.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it is content with the proposed policy changes on the upper age limit for jury service.

7. Policing and Community Safety Partnerships – Draft consultations on Formally Designated Organisations and a Code of Practice for the Exercise of Functions

The Committee considered two proposed consultations in relation to the Policing and Community Safety Partnerships (PCSPs).  The first consultation is on a proposed list of bodies which will be formally designated to participate on all PCSPs and the second consultation is on a draft Code of Practice for the exercise of functions by PCSPs/DPCSPs.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it is content for the draft consultation documents to issue and it will consider the issues further when the results of the consultation exercises are available.

8. The Magistrates' Courts (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012 and Magistrates’ Courts (Declarations of Parentage) (Amendments) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee considered information on two Magistrates’ Courts Rules.  The Magistrates’ Courts (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012 gives effect to policy decisions set in the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 in relation to the Offender Levy, Compassionate Bail and Penalty Notices. The Magistrates’ Courts (Declarations of Parentage) (Amendments) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012 amends the procedures in relation to serving notice of an application for a declaration of parentage and the provision of documents to the Attorney General

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it is content with the proposed Magistrates’ Courts Rules. 

9. Opt In decision on a proposal for EU Legislation Establishing a Justice EU Funding Programme 2014 – 2020

The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the UK Government has not opted in to a proposed EU Regulation which would establish a Justice funding programme for 2014 - 2020.

10. Opt In/Opt Out decision on a proposal for EU Legislation Establishing a Home Affairs EU Funding Programme 2014 – 2020

The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that two funds will be set up under a proposed EU Regulation to establish a Home Affairs EU funding programme for 2014 – 2020 and that the UK Government has decided to opt in to the Asylum and Migration Fund and not to opt in to the Internal Security Fund at this time.  

11. Correspondence

i. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request for a detailed breakdown of costs in the case of R- v – Haddock and others.

ii. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to its request for further information on issues raised by an individual regarding the availability of Legal Aid for Employment Tribunal Cases. 

Agreed: The Committee noted that the issues raised are covered in the Access to Justice Review and agreed to forward the response to the individual.

iii. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to its request for an up-date on the position regarding service pay awards to PSNI civilian staff and the availability of funding in this financial year.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the response to an individual who had raised the issue and to the Committee for Finance and Personnel given its interest in the matter.

iv. The Committee considered correspondence from an individual regarding the NI Prison Service Review proposals in relation to members of the Night Custody Group.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Department of Justice for a response to the issues raised.

v. The Committee noted a response from the Legal Services Commission regarding the withholding of the name of one barrister on the published list of barristers who received the highest payments from Legal Aid in Northern Ireland during the 2010/11 financial year.

12. Chairman’s Business

The Chairman advised the Committee that he and the Deputy Chairman had met with the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health to discuss the handling of the Mental Capacity Bill.

The Chairman indicated that both Ministers are keen for a joint approach to be adopted in relation to the Bill the matter will be brought to the Committee for consideration when further information regarding the extent of the overlap between health and justice and the rationale for adopting a joint approach is available.

13. Any other business

None.  

14. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 17 May at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

3.57 p.m. the meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
17 May 2012

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