Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 31 May 2012

Venue: Room 30

The meeting commenced at 2.03 p.m. in open session with Mr McCartney in the Chair.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 24 May 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 24 May 2012.

3. Matters Arising

i. The Committee noted that arrangements had been made for the Assembly Committee Researcher to attend the Departmental study visit to Hull on 14 and 15 June on ways to improve the management of youth cases to address avoidable delay and a report will be prepared for the Committee following the visit.  

ii. The Committee noted that the Minister’s on his response to the Access to Justice review had been re-scheduled to 21 June and the briefings by the Police Ombudsman’s Office and the State Pathologist on the retention of human tissue samples would take place on 7 June 2012. 

4. Briefing on the results of the Consultation on the Report of the Review of Youth Justice

Brian Grzymek, Deputy Director, Reducing Offending and Tony Kavanagh, Head of Youth Justice Unit, joined the meeting at 2.06 p.m.

2.07 p.m. Ms McCann joined the meeting.

The officials briefed the Committee on the results of the consultation on the report of the Review of Youth Justice.

2.17 p.m. Mr Givan joined the meeting and took the Chair.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering a range of issues including progress being made  in transferring all young offenders under the age of 18 to Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre; how the transition is being managed to ensure there is no disruption to the regime in Woodlands; what support will be offered to aid the transition of young offenders into the community; what cross departmental initiatives there will be to reduce offending; the challenge of dealing with an older youth justice population and providing links with training organisations rather than schools; what skills package will be provided for Police Officers in encouraging and interacting with young people; how the Youth Justice Strategy will fit with the Strategic Framework for Reducing Offending Behaviour; the role of agencies and voluntary organisations in working with young offenders and reintegration into the community; the role of the proposed Early Intervention Unit and how it will be resourced; what role victims of crime have in Youth Conferencing; the level of satisfaction of victims with Youth Conferencing; the views given by communities in the consultation process; and the PSNI views on the proposed introduction of a 120 day statutory time limit for all youth justice cases.

2.41 p.m. Mr Weir left the meeting.

The Committee noted that the Minister of Justice will attend on 28 June to discuss his proposed way forward in relation to the Review.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

5. Briefing on a proposed consultation on Firearms Licensing Fees and other Firearms related issues

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, Consultant, Delivery and Innovation Division, Department of Finance and Personnel and Joanne Breen, Protection and Organised Crime Division, Department of Justice, joined the meeting at 3.18 p.m.

The officials briefed the Committee on the proposed consultation on Firearms Licensing Fees and other Firearms related issues.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering a range of issues including the level of fees being proposed for substituting one firearm for another firearm; whether licencing fees should be on a full cost recovery basis or whether the tax payer should bear some costs given public protection and safety issues; whether the current system is as effective and efficient as it should be; the proposed consultation process; how the proposed new fees were calculated; why the fees have not been reviewed for so long;  the current system for the provision of medical reports and the proposed changes including any costs; the inclusion of a minimum age of 12 years; the proposals regarding the licencing bands; the fact that the licence will last 5 years when equivalent fees in other areas such as for passports provide for 10 years; the need to identify efficiencies to keep costs down;  and the proposal to move to a fee when applying for a licence rather than when granted one.

3.27 p.m. Ms McCann left the meeting.

3.33 p.m. Mr Weir rejoined the meeting.

The officials agreed to incorporate comments made by the Committee into the consultation document.

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 would consider a revised draft of the consultation document prior to its publication. 

4.11 p.m. Mr Elliott left the meeting.

6. Briefing on the non-disclosure of legal advice by the Department of Justice

Moira Doherty, Deputy Director, Central Coordination Division, Department of Justice, Ronnie Armour, Director of Human Resources, Operational Development, NI Prison Service and Brenda Ross, Acting Director, Departmental Solicitors Office, joined the meeting at 4.12 p.m.

4.12 p.m. Mr McGlone left the meeting.

The officials outlined the reasons for the decision not to release the legal advice regarding the decision not to preclude Prison Officers leaving the Service, as a result of the Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme, from applying for the post of Custody Officer despite the undertaking to do so at the meeting on 8 March 2012 and answered questions in relation to the scope of and the issue of indirect discrimination.

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

7. Draft Guidance by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland pursuant to Section 8 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2004 in relation to Forensic Science Northern Ireland

The Committee considered draft guidance for Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI) provided by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland in accordance with Section 8 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2004 under which he is required to issue guidance to named criminal justice organisations on the exercise of their functions in a manner consistent with international human rights standards.  The Committee noted the intention of the Attorney General to issue tailored guidance for each organisation rather than one all-embracing volume of guidance.   

4.26 p.m. Mr McGlone rejoined the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to discuss the draft guidance with the Attorney General when he attends on 5 July 2012.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek the views of the Department of Justice on what implications, if any, the proposed guidance will have on its policy proposals for the retention and destruction of DNA.

8. Update on Delivery of Prison Reform

The Committee noted an up-date on progress to deliver the Prison Reform programme and the current position against each individual recommendation.

The Committee also noted correspondence from the Minister of Justice advising of the appointment of Mrs Sue McAllister as the new Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

9. Further consideration of the draft Community Safety Strategy

The Committee considered information from the Department of Justice on how the new draft Community Safety Strategy compares with the previous strategy and responses from other Statutory Committees on its contents.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the responses received from the Statutory Committees to the Department of Justice and request that it considers the issues raised.

10. Opt-In Decision for the Proposed Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the freezing and confiscation of the proceeds of crime in the European Union

The Committee considered information from the Department of Justice regarding proposals published by the European Parliament and the Council for a Directive on the freezing and confiscation of the proceeds of crime in the European Union.

The Committee noted that the Minister of Justice has agreed to the proposed course of action by the Home Office to delay a decision on whether to opt-in to this Directive until the post-adoption stage.

11. Fourth Commencement Order of Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Committee noted that the Minister of Justice had recently signed the fourth Commencement Order in respect of the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 bringing a number of powers into operation in June and September 2012. 

12. SL1 – The Valuation Tribunal (Amendment No. 3) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee considered a proposal by the Department of Justice for a Statutory Rule to specify a fee of £126 for a high hedge appeal.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice indicating that it is content in principle with the proposal to specify a fee and requesting further information on the basis for charging £126.

13. Correspondence

i. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the UK Government’s proposed approach to EU Readmission Agreements with Turkey and whether to opt in.

ii. The Committee noted a letter from the Minister of Justice indicating that the agreement reached in principle on a range of issues aimed at reforming the Prison Service had been endorsed by POA members.

iii. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee’s request for clarification of the disparities in the first NI Prison Service Quarterly Report on Equality and Diversity in relation to H M Prison Maghaberry. 

iv. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee’s request for further information in relation to gratuity payments for officers who served in the Police Part-Time Reserve and whether applications that had just fallen outside the deadline had been accommodated within the scheme.

v. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice to the Committee’s request for a response to issues raised by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights regarding youth justice and policing in Northern Ireland.

vi. The Committee noted an up-date from the Department of Justice in relation to the development of a comprehensive needs assessment of the prisoner population to inform the Framework for the Resettlement of Offenders.

vii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Minister of Justice had agreed to a Department of Transport request for an exemption from Security Industry (SIA) licencing requirements for certain additional airside security operatives.

viii.  The Committee noted a copy of a response from the Chairman of the Policing Board’s Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee to the Department of Justice consultation on the Future Operation of the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

ix. The Committee noted an invitation from Right to Ride Ltd to attend a presentation on the Northern Ireland Motorcycle Fatality Report 2012 on 11 June 2012 in Parliament Buildings. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed that any Member wishing to attend the event should advise the Clerk who will make the necessary arrangements.

14. Chairman’s Business

i. The Chairman advised the Committee that the Chairman of the Policing Board had written proposing that a meeting should take place several times a year between the Chair and the Vice Chair of the Policing Board and the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Justice Committee to discuss policing issues of mutual interest. Both the Chairman and Deputy Chairman were amenable to the proposal and arrangements would be made for an initial meeting to take place.

ii. The Chairman informed the Committee that arrangements had been made for him and the Deputy Chairman to meet with the Lord Chief Justice at his request, to discuss the issue of avoidable delay in the criminal justice system and initiatives he has been taking in this area.

15. Any other business

i. The Committee discussed the issue of temporary release on compassionate grounds for prisoners in relation to a specific case and more generally.    

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request information on the policy and procedures for the granting of temporary compassionate leave to prisoners generally and specific information on the decision to grant compassionate temporary release in the case of prisoner Martin Corry. 

ii. The Committee considered a recent court case concerning the death of Rebecca McKeown.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Director of the Public Prosecution Service regarding the decision that was taken to prosecute.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Policing Board regarding the police investigation in relation to the case.

16. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 7 June 2012 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

4.48 p.m. the meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
7 June 2012

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