Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 02 February 2012

Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings

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 26 January 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 26 January 2012.

3.      Matters Arising

i. The Committee noted that a draft response to the draft Programme for Government will be considered at next week’s meeting.

2.04 p.m. Mr McCartney joined the meeting.

2.04 p.m. Mr Weir joined the meeting.

ii.  The Committee noted a letter from the Consumer Council regarding the cost of car insurance in Northern Ireland and considered a request from the Association of British Insurers requesting an opportunity to brief the Committee on the issue. 

Agreed:  The Committee agreed to write to the Committee for the Environment requesting copies of written submissions it received while taking evidence on the high cost of car insurance.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to give further consideration to the request from the Association of British Insurers following the Plenary debate on the cost of car insurance which was due to take place on 6 February.

iii. The Chairman outlined the strategic nature of the role of the Committee and advised that, given the Committee’s remit, it would not normally pursue individual cases unless they raised policy issues/questions.

The Chairperson advised members that due to the availability of witnesses the order of the meeting would vary from that detailed in the agenda. 

2.06 p.m. Ms McCann joined the meeting.

4.      Update briefing on the Department of Justice Reform Programme

Departmental officials, Mark McGuckin, Deputy Director of the Reform Programme and Kiera Lloyd, Reform Programme joined the meeting at 2.07 p.m.

The officials outlined the key points relating to the Department of Justice Reform Programme and answered questions on the impact of the reform programme on the number of posts and likely financial savings; the impact of the reforms on the Department of Justice interface with the Northern Ireland Office on reserved matters; and the status of the Department of Justice staff.

2.13 p.m. Mr McCrea joined the meeting.

The officials agreed to provide further information on a range of issues. 

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

5.      Consideration of a draft consultation document on Amendments to Legal Aid for Crown Court Proceedings (Costs) Rules (NI) 2005

Robert Crawford, Deputy Director of Public Legal Services Division, Department of Justice, John Halliday, Public Legal Services Division and Chris McGregor, Public Legal Services Division, joined the meeting at 2.19 p.m.

The officials briefed the Committee on proposals to undertake a consultation exercise on amendments to Legal Aid for Crown Court Proceedings (Costs) Rules.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as the cost of introducing the proposals; and the re-categorisation of sexual offenses prevention orders.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation exercise to take place and to consider the issue further when the results of the consultation are available.

6.      SL1 – Reform of Legal Representation at the Crown Court - Assignment of Two Counsel

The Committee considered proposals for a Statutory Rule to amend the circumstances where the court can assign two counsel to a defendant in a Crown Court case.

The officials provided clarification on the definition and inclusion in the rules of “substantial, novel or complex issues of fact”; the inclusion of the Human Rights exception; and the drafting points raised by the Attorney General; and the current position regarding the number of cases in which two counsel are assigned.

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

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request a copy of the draft Statutory Rule to assist consideration of the proposals.

7.       Briefing on the results of the consultation on Fine Measures in Northern Ireland and proposals on how to reduce fine default and improve fine enforcement

Gareth Johnston, Deputy Director of Criminal Justice Policy and Legislation Division, Tom Haire, Head of Criminal Branch and Andrew Laverty, Criminal Law Branch, Department of Justice, joined the meeting at 2.42 p.m.

The officials outlined the results of the consultation on Fine Measures in Northern Ireland and the proposals on how to reduce fine default and improve fine enforcement.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as the proposals for increased custody periods for some types of fine default; what consideration had been given to  accessing an individual’s bank account; the PSNI resource savings if a civilianised system of  enforcement is adopted; the powers that would be available to Fines Officers; the need to target those who won’t pay; what arrangements will be available to support those individuals unable to pay fines; the likely impact of deductions from benefits and the need for safeguards; the number of Fines Officers needed; and whether targets would be set and who would have responsibility for this.

3.05 p.m. Mr Wells joined the meeting.

3.18 p.m. Mr Anderson left the meeting.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice on the issues raised. 

8.      Briefing by Assembly Researcher on Research Papers for the Inquiry into Victims and Witnesses of Crime

The Chairman informed the Committee that they would now return to the briefing by the Assembly Researcher.

Fiona O’Connell, Assembly Researcher, joined the meeting at 3.21 p.m.

Ms O’Connell outlined the key points in three research papers covering the statutory requirements of criminal justice agencies in Northern Ireland regarding Victims and Witnesses; Victim Impact Statements; and supplementary information on Victims and Witnesses issues and answered questions. 

3.26 p.m. Mr McCrea left the meeting.

3.30 p.m. Mr Anderson rejoined the meeting.

Ms O’Connell agreed to provide further information on a number of issues.

The Chairman thanked Ms O’Connell for the briefing and she left the meeting.

9.      Review of Judicial Appointments in Northern Ireland

The Committee considered draft Terms of Reference for the review of judicial appointments which it is required to complete in accordance with Section 29C of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as amended by Schedule 6 of the Northern Ireland Act 2009 and Standing Order 49A.

The Committee also considered its approach to carrying out the review and a proposed list of consultees.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the terms of reference for the Review of Judicial Appointments.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the approach to the review should be a targeted consultation with information placed on the Committee webpage.

Agreed: The Committee agreed a list of key consultees from which written evidence will be requested and the commissioning letter to issue.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that arrangements should be made for oral evidence sessions with the NI Judicial Appointments Commission, the Judicial Appointments Ombudsman, the Lord Chief Justice and the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.

10.  Correspondence

i. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to it’s request for an update on the implementation of the Prison Review.

ii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister for Justice regarding the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland follow-up inspection on the treatment of vulnerable prisoners by the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

iii. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to it’s request for an update on the progress on the new Mental Capacity Legislation.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the response to the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety for information.

iv.  The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to it’s request for further information regarding the National Statistics Bulletin 3/2011 “Experience of Crime: Findings from the 2010-2011 Northern Ireland Crime Survey”.

v. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to it’s request for further information in relation to the Corporate Manslaughter Legislation.

vi.  The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the inclusion of certain Department of Justice bodies into the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme (NI).

vii. The Committee considered a response from the Office of the Lord Chief Justice to it’s request for comments on the disparity in Oils Fraud Convictions between Northern Ireland and England and Wales.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Minster of Justice regarding amending the current position which does not permit the Director of Public Prosecutions to refer a sentence for a fuel laundering offence on the grounds that the sentence is unduly lenient. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed to commission a research paper on comparative sentencing patterns between Northern Ireland and England and Wales other jurisdictions in sentencing.

viii. The Committee considered a response from the PSNI regarding the Committee for the Environment’s request for further information regarding the handling of hoax calls.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the response to the Committee for the Environment.

ix. The Committee considered correspondence from the Law Society of Northern Ireland inviting it to hold a meeting in the Law Society premises and receive a briefing on current issues facing solicitors.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to hold a Committee meeting, to include the proposed briefing, in the Law Society premises in Belfast on a suitable date.

x. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Education regarding the Child Poverty Act 2010.

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

xi. The Committee considered a submission by Support After Murder and Manslaughter (SAMM NI) to the Leveson Inquiry on Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the  information should be included in the Inquiry into Victims and Witnesses.

xii. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Health Social Services and Public Safety regarding a 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: The Committee agreed to ask the Health Committee to facilitate any member of the Justice Committee that wished to participate in the visit.

xiii. The Committee considered correspondence from Mr Steven Agnew MLA regarding legislative proposals to place a statutory duty on Government departments and agencies to collaborate in the planning, commissioning and delivery of services for children.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to maintain a watching brief on the proposals.

11.  Chairman’s Business

The Chairman informed the Committee that both he and the Deputy Chairman have accepted an invitation to meet with participants of the Attorney General’s Living Law Programme on 7 February to discuss the work of the Justice Committee.

12.  Any other business

None.

13.  Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 9 February at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

3.48 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
9 February 2012

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