Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: Thursday, 28 February 2013

Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings

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 21 February 2013

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 21 February 2013.

3. Matters Arising

i. The Committee noted an updated Forward Work Programme covering the period to Easter Recess. The Committee noted that the briefing on the Desertcreat Training Capital Project had been scheduled for Thursday 7 March and the briefings by the Criminal Justice Inspection on its follow-up report on the Office of the Police Ombudsman and the Police Ombudsman on the resumption of historical investigations would now take place on Thursday 18 April 2013.

ii. The Committee noted an updated programme for the planned visit to England to view a prison facility, visit the Supreme Court and meet with the Justice Committee and Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster.

4. SL1 Firearms (Amendment) Regulations Northern Ireland 2011 - consultation responses and departmental proposals regarding licensing fees and miscellaneous fee amendments

Simon Rogers, Deputy Director, Protection and Organised Crime Division, Department of Justice, Robert Kidd, Head of Firearms and Explosives Branch, Protection and Organised Crime Division, Department of Justice, Nick Cochrane, Delivery and Innovation Division, Department of Finance and Personnel and Chief Superintendent Mark Hamilton, Police Service of Northern Ireland, joined the meeting at 2.10 p.m.

The officials outlined the results of the consultation and the Department's proposed way forward in relation to increases to firearms licensing fees and other changes to the firearms legislation.
2.15 p.m. Mr William Humphrey joined the meeting.

2.15 p.m. Mr Stewart Dickson joined the meeting.
Mr Dickson declared an interest as a Member of the International All Party Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons.
Mr Givan declared an interest as a Member of the All Party Group on Country Sports.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: the format and frequency of consultation and engagement with firearms stakeholders; how stakeholder responses had been taken on board in the development of the proposals; how the increased fees had been calculated; the need for full cost recovery; whether staffing costs relate to police officer or civilian staff time; whether there are efficiencies to be made in the licence processing system; annual income gained from firearms licences; whether there is a difference in the cost between processing first and second applications; reasons for delays in processing applications; whether there is a lack of resources to ensure applications are dealt with expeditiously; how many firearms dealers licences are issued in Northern Ireland; the reasons for the differences in fees between Northern Ireland and GB; and what recognition had been taken of the benefits of the Firearms Industry to the economy in Northern Ireland.

The briefing was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the officials and they left meeting.

5. Briefing by the Northern Ireland Firearms Dealers and Shooters Association on the proposals to vary the Firearms Licensing Fees and other miscellaneous amendments

Vaughan Harkness, Honorary Secretary, Northern Ireland Firearms Dealers and Shooters Association and Derek Beattie, Northern Ireland Firearms Dealers and Shooters Association joined the meeting at 2.50 p.m.
2.59 p.m. Mr Tom Elliott joined the meeting.

3.04 p.m. Mr Jim Wells joined the meeting.
Mr Elliott declared an interest as a firearms licence holder and a member of the All Party Group on Country Sports.

Mr Harkness outlined the position of the NI Firearms Dealers and Shooters Association in relation to the proposals to increase Firearms Licensing Fees and other changes to the firearms legislation.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: public perception of shooting sports; participation levels in the sport; the most appropriate age at which young people can use firearms; how to encourage the involvement of young people in shooting sports; and resources to develop the sports; the low level of crime involving legally held guns; the relationship the organisation has with the Department of Justice and with the PSNI; the lack of open accountability by Firearms and Explosives Branch; why there should be full cost recovery when other sports and organisations do not fund that position; and the need for a full efficiency review of the licensing process.
The briefing was recorded by Hansard.
The Chairman thanked Mr Harkness and Mr Beattie and they left meeting.

6. Briefing by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Countryside Alliance and the Gun Trade Guild on the proposals to vary the Firearms Licensing Fees and other miscellaneous amendments

Tommy Mayne, Director, British Association of Shooting and Conservation Northern Ireland, Lyall Plant, Chief Executive, Countryside Alliance Ireland and David Robinson, Chairman, Gun Trade Guild Northern Ireland, joined the meeting at 3.10 p.m.
The representatives outlined the position of the three organisations in relation to the proposals to increase the Firearms Licensing Fees and other changes to the firearms legislation.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: the format and frequency of consultation and engagement with the Department of Justice and PSNI through the Northern Ireland Firearms Liaison Committee; how the proposed increases to fees have been calculated and the likely implications to licence holders; what efficiencies need to be made in the licence processing system; the key inefficiencies in the current system; examples of delays in processing applications; the lack of transparency and accountability for decisions made regarding the award or refusal of applications for licences; public perception of shooting sports; how to encourage the involvement of young people in shooting sports; the development of shooting sport and resources to do so; the age at which young people can use firearms; the process for an application for a first licence and a second application; the length of time for a licence; the need to link full cost recovery with best practice processes; and the benefits of the Firearms Industry to the NI economy.
3.45 p.m. Mr William Humphrey left the meeting.

3.55 p.m. Mr Stewart Dickson left the meeting.

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

The briefing was recorded by Hansard.
The Chairman thanked the officials and they left meeting.
The Committee noted correspondence from the Ulster Farmers' Union indicating its support for the views outlined by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation on the proposals to increase the Firearms Licensing Fees and other changes to the firearms legislation.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice regarding the issues raised during the three oral evidence sessions.

7. The Draft Crown Court (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2013 and the Draft Magistrates' Courts (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2013 - Use of Intermediaries in Criminal Proceedings

4.05 p.m. Mr Stewart Dickson joined the meeting.

The Committee noted further information provided by the Department of Justice in relation to the Magistrates' Courts and Crown Courts Rules which will deal with the use of intermediaries in criminal proceedings.

8. Draft Guidance on the use of Reasonable Force to Protect Against Crime

The Committee considered information provided by the Department of Justice and the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development on the issue of whether there is a need for public guidance on the use of reasonable force to protect against crime.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that guidance on the use of reasonable force to protect against crime would be useful but that in producing the guidance prosecutorial flexibility and the ability to use discretion where appropriate must be retained.

9. Department of Justice proposals for the rationalisation of the functions of the Office of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman

The Committee considered the Department's proposals by the Department of Justice to rationalise the functions of the Office of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman.
4.14 p.m. Mr Jim Wells left the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposal to retain the current duties and powers of the NI Judicial Appointments Ombudsman but combine the role with the proposed Public Services Ombudsman.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the effect of the current restrictions on eligibility for appointment as NI Judicial Appointments Ombudsman should be retained by requiring that in the event that the Public Services Ombudsman is or has been a member of the legal profession or holder of judicial office, the Deputy Ombudsman would carry out an investigation relating to a judicial appointment; if the Deputy is also similarly disqualified, a Director of Investigations would investigate; and if all Directors are disqualified, a third party (such as an ombudsman from another jurisdiction) would carry out the investigation.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to advise the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister of its views on this matter.

10. Consideration of Committee Priorities in relation to the 2013 European Commission Work Programme

The Committee considered a paper outlining possibile EU justice related priorities for scrutiny over the next twelve months.
Agreed: The Committee agreed its EU priorities for the year ahead and that a response outlining these should be sent to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Department of Justice.

11. Correspondence

i. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing details of the main items discussed at the Police Negotiating Board (PNB) meeting on 17 January 2013 and advising that the Home Secretary has decided to replace the current PNB with a Police Officer Review Body.

ii. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to John Fahy & Co Solicitors, regarding the likely timescale for the Criminal Justice Bill to become law.

iii. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel providing information on the current position in relation to the monitoring of Post Project Evaluations.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice to request an explanation for the delay in completing three post project evaluations relating to two capital projects and one IT project.

iv. The Committee considered correspondence from the Chairman of Mens Aid (NI), requesting a meeting with the Committee for Justice to discuss a project in relation to legal aid and family law.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Chairman, Deputy Chairman and any other available Committee Members should meet informally with representatives from Mens Aid (NI).

v. The Committee considered correspondence from the Chief Executive of Autism NI, requesting the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee for Justice in relation to difficulties for the criminal justice system in identifying and processing young people with autism and the "Young People, Autism and Criminal Justice" Project.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Chairman, Deputy Chairman and any other available Committee Members should meet informally with representatives from Autism NI.

vi. The Committee noted information on an International Crime Conference to be held in London on Tuesday 19 March 2013.

vii. The Committee noted the Northern Ireland Police Fund Annual Report and Accounts for year ended 31 March 2012.

viii. The Committee noted the Funds in Court in Northern Ireland – Statement of Accounts 2010-2011.

ix. The Committee noted the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland report on a follow-up review of inspection recommendations in relation to Police Custody.

x. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice outlining the amendments the Minister of Justice proposes to bring forward at Further Consideration Stage of the Criminal Justice Bill, subject to the agreement of the Executive.

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 7 March 2013 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.
The meeting was adjourned at 4.25 p.m.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
7 March 2013

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