Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: Thursday, 21 February 2013

Venue: Room 30

The meeting commenced at 2.07 p.m. in public session.

1.  Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 14 February 2013

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 14 February 2013.

3. Matters Arising

The Committee considered the proposal by the Minister of Justice to re-introduce a ‘clause 34’ type duty in the Criminal Justice Bill which would place a statutory duty on public bodies to ensure that they take account of crime, anti-social behaviour and community safety implications in the exercise of their functions and the views of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland on the matter.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to refer a copy of the Hansard of the discussion with the Attorney General on the proposal to the Minister of Justice to enable him to consider the issues raised.

2.09 p.m. Mr Alban Maginness joined the meeting.

4. Briefing by the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman on the Department of Justice proposals for the rationalisation of the functions of his office

The Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman, Mr Karamjit Singh CBE, joined the meeting at 2.10 p.m.

Mr Singh briefed the Committee on his role and remit and on the proposals for the rationalisation of the function of his office.

2.12 p.m. Mr Jim Wells joined the meeting.

2.15 p.m. Mr William Humphrey joined the meeting.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: the current responsibilities of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman; the number of cases he has dealt with; the outcome of the cases; the Ombudsman’s role in investigating cases in England and Wales because of potential conflicts of interest by the Ombudsman in that jurisdiction; how the remit of the Ombudsman’s Office in Northern Ireland compares to the remit of his counterparts in Scotland, England and Wales; what potential there is to extend the responsibilities and remit of the Judicial Appointments Ombudsman; the public interest and confidence issues that should be taken into account when considering the rationalisation of the Judicial Appointments Ombudsman’s Office; the need for value for money for the public purse and effectiveness; the importance of the independence of the Ombudsman’s office; the eligibility restrictions in relation to the office holder, the importance of these and whether/how these should apply if the post is combined with that of the proposed Public Services Ombudsman; the possible appointment arrangements for a future Public Services Ombudsman and whether these should influence whether the roles are combined; and the accountability arrangements for the proposed Public Services Ombudsman.

The briefing was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked Mr Singh and he left the meeting.

5.Briefing by Department of Justice officials on the policy proposals for the rationalisation of the functions of the Office of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman

David Lavery, Director, Access to Justice Directorate, Geraldine Fee, Deputy Director, Jurisdictional Redesign Division, and Martin Moore, Jurisdictional Redesign Division, Department of Justice, joined the meeting at 2.55 p.m.

The departmental officials briefed the Committee on the policy proposals for the rationalisation of the functions of the Office of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman.

3.09 p.m. Mr Jim Wells left the meeting.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: how complaints would be handled by the Public Services Deputy Ombudsman or a Senior Investigator if the Public Services Ombudsman had a conflict of interest; the option of a Judicial Appointments Ombudsman from another jurisdiction taking responsibility for cases in Northern Ireland; the appointment process for a Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman; whether the proposals for the rationalisation of the functions of the Office of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman was solely a cost saving measure; public perception of the proposals to combine the role of the NI Judicial Appointments Ombudsman with that of the proposed Public Services Ombudsman; the importance of the eligibility restrictions, whether these should apply to the Public Services Ombudsman and other options for dealing with possible conflicts of interests.

The briefing was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the officials and they left the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to discuss the matter further at the next meeting to enable Members to consider the oral evidence.

6. Briefing by Department of Justice officials on the draft consultation document on safeguards to protect individual decisions following the future status of the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission

Mark McGuckin, Deputy Director, Department of Justice Reform Programme and Carol Graham, Department of Justice Reform Programme, joined the meeting at 3.22 p.m.

3.24 p.m. Mr Tom Elliott left the meeting.

The departmental officials outlined proposals for a public consultation on safeguards to protect individual decisions on the granting of legal aid following the recommendation in the Access to Justice Review that the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission should become an Executive Agency within the Department of Justice.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: the application process for civil legal aid; the appeals process; the composition of the independent appeals panel; the reasons for the proposed restructuring of the NI Legal Services Commission to an Executive Agency; public perception that the proposal may reduce access to justice, and the tests that apply in relation to civil legal aid that would not change under the proposed revised arrangement.

3.30 p.m. Mr Alex Easton left the meeting.

3.31 p.m. Mr William Humphrey left the meeting.

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

7. Briefing by Assembly Researcher on the Justice and Home Affairs elements of the 2013 European Commission Work Programme

Ms Fiona O’Connell, Assembly Researcher, joined the meeting at 3.31 p.m.

Ms O’Connell outlined the Justice and Home Affairs elements of the 2013 European Commission Work Programme and answered Members’ questions.

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

The Committee briefly discussed possible EU priorities for the next year.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that a draft response to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister setting out EU priority issues in relation to the European Commission Work Programme should be prepared for consideration at the next meeting.

8. The Attorney General for Northern Ireland’s Draft Guidance in relation to Forensic Science Northern Ireland and the State Pathologist’s Department

The Committee noted a reply from the Attorney General for Northern Ireland outlining his response to the points raised in correspondence referred to him by the Committee in relation to his draft guidance for Forensic Science Northern Ireland and the State Pathologist’s Department on the exercise of their functions in a manner consistent with International Human Rights Standards.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite the Attorney General to attend a meeting to discuss his proposal to include the PSNI on the list of organisations to which section 8 applies.

9. Update on the Delivery of Prison Reform

The Committee noted an update from the Northern Ireland Prison Service on progress to deliver the Prison Reform Programme. 

10. NI Prison Service Employability Strategy - Consultation Results, Departmental Response and Draft Strategy

The Committee considered a briefing paper from the Department of Justice outlining the results of the consultation on the Northern Ireland Prison Service draft Employability Strategy and providing the draft revised Strategy and an implementation timetable.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that this issue should be scheduled for discussion at a future oral briefing session with Northern Ireland Prison Service officials.

11. Correspondence

i. The Committee considered a response from the Northern Ireland Law Commission to the Committee’s query regarding what scope there is for including social workers in Northern Ireland in the NI Law Commission Consultation on the Regulation of Health Care Professionals.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request that the Northern Ireland Law Commission extends the scope of it’s consultation on the Regulation of Health Care Professionals to include Social Workers in Northern Ireland.

ii. The Committee noted an invitation from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust to an event at which the Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton TD, will speak on the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that Members would advise the Committee Clerk if they wished to attend the event.

iii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel regarding the latest position on the PSNI hearing loss claims.

iv. The Committee considered correspondence referred by Mr Patsy McGlone MLA regarding solicitors and their treatment of legal aid clients and the lack of availability of Justice legislation, particularly Court Rules, on-line.

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

v. The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel regarding the monitoring of Departmental Savings Delivery Plans.

12. Chairman’s Business

i. The Chairman outlined the programme for the Committee’s planned visit to England to view a prison facility, visit the Supreme Court and meet with the Justice Committee at Westminster and proposed that a meeting with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee should also be scheduled into the programme. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed that a meeting with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee should be included in the visit programme.

ii. The Chairman proposed that the Committee should hold an informal planning meeting once a month to discuss the Committee Forward Work Programme and identify key items of business. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed to hold a monthly informal planning meeting beginning in March 2013. 

13. Any other business

The issue of the Desertcreat Training College Capital Project was raised.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that an oral evidence session with relevant officials on the progress to date of the Desertcreat Training College Capital Project and it’s governance arrangements should be scheduled as soon as possible.

14. Date and time of next meeting 

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 28 February 2013 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

The meeting was adjourned at 3.45 p.m.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
28 February 2013

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