Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 19 January 2012

Venue: Lagan Valley Island, Lisburn

The meeting commenced at 2.02 p.m. in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 12 January 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 12 January 2012.

3. Matters Arising

The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice on the Criminal Justice Board’s draft Action Plan in response to the CJI Report on the Care and Treatment of Victims and Witnesses in the Criminal Justice System.  The Department confirmed that the Action Plan will be reviewed and actions that need to be more specific or measurable will be revised and that once agreed, the revised Action Plan would be provided to the Committee.

The Department also provided information on the extent and scope of the definition of judicial independence and its statutory basis.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request a copy of the Concordat between Her Majesty’s Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on the Independence of the Judiciary in Northern Ireland and to consider this matter further at a future meeting.

4. Response from the Department of Justice to the Criminal Justice Inspection NI report of the announced inspection of Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre

The Committee considered and noted a response from the Department of Justice to the CJINI report of the announced inspection of Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre which details the Department’s position in relation to the CJINI Report recommendations.

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

The Committee considered information it requested from the Department of Justice on proposals for a Statutory Rule to make changes to the legislation which allows the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission to recover the costs of legal aid in certain cases by means of a Statutory Charge.

The Committee noted the further information provided by the Department on the safeguards to be applied by the Commission before any legal aid costs are recovered by enforcement of a Statutory Charge.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request further information in relation to cases involving property.

6. SL1 – Police Service of Northern Ireland Pensions (Amendment) Regulations 2012

The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to further information requested at the meeting of 12 January 2012 regarding proposals for a Statutory Rule detailing how increases to police pension contribution rates would be structured.

The Committee noted that the Department is awaiting confirmation from the Home Office as to whether the Statutory Rule will refer to three years or one year as with other public sector workers.

Agreed:    The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposal for the Statutory Rule and for the Department to proceed on this basis.

7. Correspondence

i.  The Committee noted a response from the Minister of Justice to the Committee’s request for additional information in relation to the briefing by the Attorney General on the proposed Statutory Rule on the Reform of Legal Representation at the Crown Court.

ii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding proposals for nine Directives to be aligned to EU Decision 768/2008/EC on a Common Framework for the Marketing of Products and certain provisions of EU Regulations 765/2008/EC.

iii. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee’s request for information on the cost of implementing the Department’s Equality Scheme and Action Plan.

iv. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee’s request for an update on the dispute at Roe House, HM Prison Maghaberry and the current position with the August 2010 Agreement.

v. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee’s request for information on behalf of Mr Jimmy Spratt MLA on Article 45 of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the Department’s letter to Mr Spratt MLA.

vi.  The Committee noted correspondence from Mr N Hammond regarding delays in NICS pay awards to PSNI civilian staff.

vii. The Committee noted correspondence from Ms T O’Donovan regarding the handling by the Department of Justice and the Public Prosecution Service of the case of Mr C Walsh.

viii. The Committee noted an invitation from NIACRO to its Youth Justice Series 2011-12 briefing – ‘Youth Justice Reviewed’ on 24 January 2012 at 12.30 pm in Parliament Buildings.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to advise committee staff if they wish to attend this event.

ix. The Committee noted an invitation from the Restorative Justice Forum (NI) to a ‘Showcasing and Expanding Restorative Approaches’ event on 6 February 2012 at 12 noon in Parliament Buildings.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to advise committee staff if they wish to attend this event.

x. The Committee noted two reports on Tribunal Reform in Northern Ireland from the Law Centre (NI) – ‘Supporting Tribunal Users’ and ‘Structural Tribunal Reform in Northern Ireland’.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that a briefing by the Law Commission should be scheduled into the Committee’s work programme.

xi. The Committee noted a Department of Justice consultation paper on the Upper Age Limit for Jury Service in Northern Ireland.

xii. The Committee noted the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission Annual Report and Financial Statements.

xiii.  The Committee noted Funds in Court in Northern Ireland Accounts 2008-2009 and Funds in Court in Northern Ireland Accounts 2009-2010.

8. Chairman’s Business

i.  The Chairman advised Members that he had accepted an invitation from the Chief Inspector for Criminal Inspection to CJI’s Conference on “The Future of Victim & Witness Care: from aspiration to reality” on 25 January 2012 in Belfast.

ii.  The Chairman advised Members that he had met with the Criminal Justice Board during its Strategic Planning Event on 18 January 2012 to discuss and consider further priorities for the criminal justice system.

9. Inquiry into the Criminal Justice Services available to Victims and Witnesses of Crime – oral evidence event

The Chairman welcomed the witnesses to the meeting and outlined the structure of the evidence session.

Briefing by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton and Superintendent Andrea McMullan joined the meeting at 2.15 p.m.

The PSNI officials briefed the Committee on PSNI’s submission to the Committee’s Inquiry and answered questions from Members on issues such as: the training provided to police officers in dealing with victims and witnesses; whether PSNI policies and processes are subject to victim impact assessment; the role of the PSNI victims’ champion; Victim and Witness Care Units; procedures for updating victims and witnesses in relation to case progression; discretionary disposal measures; progress in relation to the establishment of SARC in NI; identification of victims and witnesses who require special assistance; levels of bureaucracy and form filling; identifying causes of delay and the value of introducing statutory time limits.

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

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

Briefing by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS)

Stephen Burnside, Acting Senior Assistant Director and Ms Una McClean, Senior Public Prosecutor joined the meeting at 3.24 p.m.

The PPS officials briefed the Committee on PPS’s submission to the Committee’s Inquiry and answered questions from Members on issues such as: sharing information and communicating with victims, witnesses and their families; whether there is merit in formally and legally recognising the status of victims in criminal proceedings; provision for victims and witnesses without English as their first language; the role of the Victims’ Champion within PPS; communicating prosecutorial decisions; the accountability of the PPS; liaising with bereaved families; Victim and Witness Care Units; attrition rates in sexual assault and rape cases; and the role of the PPS to represent the interests of the State and the wider community.

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

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

Briefing by the Department of Justice, Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS), and the Compensation Agency

Maura Campbell, Deputy Director, Criminal Justice Development, Department of Justice, Declan McGeown, Deputy Director, Community Safety Unit, Department of Justice, Peter Luney, Head of Court Operations, Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Services and Marcella McKnight, Chief Executive, the Compensation Agency joined the meeting at 4.33 p.m.

The officials briefed the Committee on the Department’s initial response to the emerging themes from the Committee’s Inquiry and further information on the possible actions the Department is considering for inclusion in the new strategy for victims and witnesses of crime.  The officials then answered questions from Members on issues such as: the statutory limitations of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009; average timescale for processing applications to the compensation scheme; potential review of the compensation scheme; excessive solicitors’ charges in respect of assisting with compensation claims; whether there should be a Victims’ Charter; the contrast of victims and witnesses service provision between different court houses; the limitations of the courts estate; the Court Estates strategy; and whether victims’ rights should be put on a statutory basis.

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

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

Briefing by the Northern Ireland Probation Board (NIPB)

Paul Doran, Deputy Director, Roisin Muldoon, Assistant Director and Rita O’Hare, Area Manager of Victims Information Unit joined the meeting at 4.58 p.m.

The NIPB officials briefed the Committee on NIPB’s submission to the Committee’s Inquiry and answered questions from Members on issues such as: restorative practices; engagement with victims and participation rates in the Victims Information Scheme; promoting the scheme and whether an ‘opt out’ rather than ‘opt in’ approach should be adopted; input to parole reports; integrated domestic abuse programme; the opportunity for a ‘beginning-to-end’ single source of communication and information for victims; and the public perception of the role of the Probation Board.

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

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

10.  Any Other Business

i. The Chairman reminded Members that the Committee had been invited to a lunch reception with representatives and stakeholders from the Security Industry Authority (SIA) on Thursday, 26 January at 12.15 p.m. in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to advise committee staff if they wish to attend this event.

ii. A Member requested clarification on the Committee’s role regarding concerns about lenient sentences.

Agreed: The Chairperson agreed to consult with officials for guidance on this matter.

11.  Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting of the Committee will take place on Thursday 26 January at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

5.34 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
26 January 2012

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