Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 26 May 2011

Venue: Room 30

The Chairman welcomed the Members to the first meeting of the Committee for Justice.

The meeting commenced at 2.03 p.m. in open session following the agreement of the Committee to hold the meeting in public.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the overview briefing on the key issues and priorities facing the Department of Justice by the Minister and the briefing on Statutory Rule No 2011/152 on legal aid for Crown Court Proceedings should be recorded by Hansard.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Committee Membership

The Committee noted details of the membership.

3. Introduction to Committee Staff

The Chairman introduced the Committee staff to members.

4. Declaration of Interests

The Chairman advised Members that the relevant entry from the Members’ Register of Interests for each Member of the Justice Committee would be circulated in due course.

The Chairman informed members of the requirement in Standing Order 69 (4) that ‘before taking part in any debate or proceeding of the Assembly or its Committees, a member shall declare any interest, financial or otherwise, which is relevant to that debate or proceeding, where such interest is held by a member or an immediate relative’ and asked Members if they had any interests to declare.

Mr Maginness declared an interest as a Member of the Northern Ireland Bar.

5. Arrangements for Committee Meetings

The Chairman outlined the proposed arrangements for committee meetings.

Agreed: Committee meetings would generally be held on Thursdays at 2.00 pm in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

Agreed: The Committee would hold some meetings outside Parliament Buildings at venues around Northern Ireland.

Agreed: Meetings should be held in public session unless there was a compelling reason to hold a meeting or part of a meeting in private, in which case the Chairman would seek the approval of the Committee.

The Committee also noted that all meetings held in public session would be broadcast around Parliament Buildings and recorded. The recording would be available on the committee web page. The weekly agenda for committee meetings would be agreed by the Chairman and would be based on the longer-term work programme agreed by the Committee. Papers for each meeting would issue, as far as possible, on the preceding Monday and Minutes of Proceedings would be placed on the committee web page as soon as they were agreed by the Committee.

6. Committee Procedures

The Committee noted guidance papers on:

  • The Powers and Operation of Statutory Committees
  • The Role of the Chairperson
  • The Role of the Committee Office
  • Good practice guidelines for providing an effective research service to committees

The Chairman drew the attention of Members to the guidance on Privilege and Sub-judice and the following was read into the record:

“Under Section 50 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, for the purposes of the law of defamation, absolute privilege applies equally to:

  • the making of a statement in proceedings of the Assembly; and
  • the publication of a statement under the Assembly’s authority.

This privilege also extends to meetings of the Committee however privilege does not extend to press conferences or statements made to the press.

Sub-judice falls under Standing Order 73 of the Standing Orders for the NI Assembly. Sub-judice applies from when a criminal charge (or charges) is brought, or from when notice of an appeal is lodged to the time that the verdict and sentence have been announced, or from when a civil action is listed for trial until judgement is given. In such cases, the matter awaiting adjudication should not be prejudiced by comment in a public session of a committee meeting.”

The Chairman advised members that Mr Tim Moore, Assembly Senior Research Officer and his team would be responsible for providing research services to the Committee for Justice.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that Committee for Justice research papers would automatically be published on the Assembly web site once presented to the Committee, unless the Committee decided otherwise.

7. Subordinate Legislation: Delegation of Technical Scrutiny to the Examiner of Statutory Rules

The Committee noted the guidance paper on Handling Subordinate Legislation (Statutory Rules).

Agreed: The Committee for Justice resolves, under Standing Order 43, to delegate to the Examiner of Statutory Rules the technical scrutiny of statutory rules referred to the Committee under the above mentioned Standing Order.

The Committee further resolves that in carrying out this function the Examiner shall be authorised to report his technical findings on each statutory rule to the Assembly, through the Business Office, and to the relevant Department, as well as to the Committee itself and to publish his report.

8. Guidance on Assembly Committees – Timescales for interaction between Committees and Departments

The Committee noted guidance on timescales for interaction between Committees and Departments which had been agreed by the Executive and the Assembly Chairpersons’ Liaison Group and which set out the timescales for the provision of information and evidence between Departments and Committees.

9. End of Session/Legacy Report

The Committee noted the End of Session/Legacy Report of the previous Justice Committee which covered the period April 2010 to March 2011, and in particular the outstanding issues and matters highlighted in it.

10. Overview Briefing on the main areas of responsibility and the key issues facing the Department of Justice

The Minister of Justice, Mr David Ford MLA and the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Justice, Mr Nick Perry, joined the meeting at 2.16 p.m.

The Minister and Permanent Secretary gave a presentation on the role and responsibilities and the key issues and challenges facing the Department of Justice and answered questions from Members on a range of issues including the priority being given by the Criminal Justice System to the needs of victims; the current position regarding the oversight role of the Attorney General in relation to the Public Prosecution Service; funding for the Joint Training College at Desertcreat; the protest in Roe House, Maghaberry Prison; issues relating to the findings of the Rosemary Nelson Inquiry; proposals to speed up justice; and the likely timescales for completion of the 3 major reviews into prisons, access to justice and youth justice.

The Chairman thanked Mr Perry and he left the meeting.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

11. Statutory Rule No 2011/152: The Legal Aid for Crown Court Proceedings (Costs) (Amendments) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011

Mr David Lavery, Director of the Courts and Tribunals Service, and Robert Crawford, Head of Public Legal Services Division, joined the meeting at 2.47 p.m.

Mr Weir joined the meeting at 2.50 p.m.

The Minister and his officials outlined the background to Statutory Rule No 2011/152 which reduced the remuneration levels for defence representatives in Crown Court cases and was laid at the end of the previous mandate with an operational date of 13 April 2011.

Mr Maginness declared an interest as a Member of the Northern Ireland Bar.
Mr Weir declared an interest as a non-practising Member of the Northern Ireland Bar.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as plans to review the current fees paid to expert witnesses; the financial savings arising from the new rules and the budgetary implications if the Statutory Rule was not approved; the current situation with regard to solicitors “coming off record”, the number of cases affected and the likely implications; the cost of legal aid in Northern Ireland compared to England and Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland; the handling of the laying of the Statutory Rule by the Department; and the format and timescale of the proposed Review of the new arrangements.

Mr Wells left the meeting at 3.14 p.m.

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

The meeting was suspended at 3.49 p.m.

The meeting resumed at 4.01 p.m. in public session.

Present:
Mr Paul Givan MLA (Chairman)
Mr Raymond McCartney MLA (Deputy Chairman)
Mr Sydney Anderson MLA
Mr Stewart Dickson MLA
Mr Colum Eastwood MLA
Mr Sean Lynch MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Ms Jennifer McCann MLA
Mr Peter Weir MLA

In Attendance:
Mrs Christine Darrah (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Roisin Donnelly (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Vincent Gribbin (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Joe Westland (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Kevin Marks (Clerical Officer)

The Committee noted correspondence from the Bar Council and the Law Society in relation to the Statutory Rule and Mr Maginness suggested that the Law Society and Bar Council should be invited to have a right of audience at a Committee meeting. The Committee discussed whether further information/briefing was required.

Agreed: A majority of the Members of the Committee for Justice agreed that there was sufficient information to enable the Statutory Rule to be considered.

Agreed: The Committee for Justice considered Statutory Rule No 2011/152: The Legal Aid for Crown Court Proceedings (Costs) (Amendments) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011 and a majority of Members had no objection to the Rule.

Mr Maginness left the meeting at 4.14 p.m.

12. Statutory Rule No 2011/115: The Supervision and Treatment Orders (Maximum Period) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Committee considered Statutory Rule No 2011/115 to extend the maximum period for Supervision and Treatment Orders from 2 to 3 years which was laid at the end of the previous mandate with a proposed operational date of 30 June 2011.

The Committee noted that the Examiner of Statutory Rules had no issues to raise with regard to the technical aspects of the Statutory Rule.

Agreed: The Committee for Justice agreed that it had sufficient information to enable it to consider the Statutory Rule.

Agreed: The Committee for Justice considered Statutory Rule No 2011/115: The Supervision and Treatment Orders (Maximum Period) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011 and had no objection to the Rule.

13. Statutory Rule No 2011/151: The Insolvency (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Committee considered Statutory Rule No 2011/151 to amend the Insolvency Rules (Northern Ireland) 1991 to make provision in respect of debt relief orders, debt relief restrictions orders and debt relief restrictions undertakings under the Debt Relief (Northern Ireland) Act 2010 which was laid at the end of the previous mandate with a proposed operational date of 30 June 2011.

The Committee noted that the Examiner of Statutory Rules had no issues to raise with regard to the technical aspects of the Statutory Rule.

Agreed: The Committee for Justice agreed that it had sufficient information to enable it to consider the Statutory Rule.

Agreed: The Committee for Justice considered Statutory Rule No 2011/151: The Insolvency (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011 and had no objection to the Rule.

14. Draft initial Committee work programme

The Committee considered an initial draft work programme.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the programme for the next three weeks.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing on the Criminal Justice Inspectorate including its work programme for the year ahead at an early date.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing on the results of the consultation exercise on a Sentencing Guidelines Mechanism before summer recess and that a briefing on the Review of Access to Justice could wait until the final report was published.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request the previous papers on a proposed Strategic Framework for a Reducing Offending Strategy before deciding whether an oral briefing should be included in the work programme.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that research papers in relation to the Review of Access to Justice and Sentencing Guidelines Mechanisms in other jurisdictions should be commissioned.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to discuss key priorities/issues for a future work programme before summer recess.

15. Correspondence
  1. The Committee considered correspondence from Mr Noel Hammond regarding unresolved equal pay claims for PSNI support staff.

    Mr Dickson declared an interest as an employee of the Labour Relations Agency although he is currently on leave and due to retire in July.
    Mr Dickson indicated that, due to his knowledge of the details of the case from that position, he would not take part in the discussion.

    Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice requesting an up-date on the current position in relation to equal pay claims and to raise the matter at the overview briefings scheduled for the meeting on 2 June.

  2. The Committee noted correspondence from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission highlighting its concerns regarding the out-workings of the new Crown Court remuneration levels and offering to provide advice or evidence. The issue had been raised with the Minister during the briefing on Statutory Rule No 2011/152.
  3. The Committee considered correspondence from the Consumer Council seeking a meeting with the Chairman to discuss priority areas including its work with the Probation Board in relation to increasing financial capability skills for offenders.

    Agreed: The Committee agreed that a meeting between the Chairman and Deputy Chairman and the Consumer Council should be arranged.

  4. The Committee noted a number of Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service quarterly statistical bulletins on criminal, civil and family business.
  5. The Committee noted a Northern Ireland Audit Office report entitled “Continuous improvement arrangements in the Northern Ireland Policing Board”.
  6. The Committee noted the Northern Ireland Law Commission Annual Report and Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2010.
  7. The Committee considered a Criminal Justice Inspectorate report entitled “Police Service of Northern Ireland Customer Service” and related press release.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the planned briefing by the Chief Inspector on the work of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate would provide an opportunity to raise any issues in relation to this report.

16. Chairman’s Business
  1. The Chairman informed Members that he and the Deputy Chairman had held a short informal meeting with the Minister of Justice on 23 May 2011. At the meeting the Minister had indicated his wish to maintain the good working relationship that had existed between the Department and the Committee during the last mandate.
  2. The Chairman advised members that he had received an invitation for the Committee to meet with a delegation from the Police Assistance Mission of the European Community in Albania (PAMECA) during their visit to Parliament Buildings on Wednesday 1 June.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that any Member interested in attending should contact the Clerk.

17. Any Other Business

None.

18. Date and Time of next Meeting

The next meeting will be held on Thursday 2 June 2011 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

4.34 p.m. The meeting was adjourned

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
2 June 2011

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