Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Thursday, 29 September 2011

Venue: Room 30

The meeting commenced at 2.01 p.m. in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 22 September 2011

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 22 September 2011 .

3. Matters Arising

  1. The Committee noted an up-dated Forward Work Programme for the period October to December 2011.
  2. The Committee was advised that a questionnaire regarding the distribution and use of electronic packs in committee rooms had been provided and Members were asked to complete it and return it to Committee staff.

4. Youth Justice Review - Briefing by the Review Team on the findings and recommendations of the final report

John Graham, Stella Perrott and Kathleen Marshall from the Youth Justice Review Team joined the meeting at 2.04 p.m. and briefed the Committee on the findings and recommendations contained in the Youth Justice Review report.

2.13 p.m. Mr Maginness joined the meeting.
2.23 p.m. Mr Wells joined the meeting.
2.25 p.m. Ms McCann joined the meeting.
2.37 p.m. Mr Weir joined the meeting.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as the impact of delay in the criminal justice system and the recommendation of a statutory limit of 120 days from arrest to disposal for youth cases; the use being made of the Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre; the benefits of early interventions; the difficulty in measuring the effects of preventative measures; the role of police discretion in diverting children and young people from the criminal justice system and the need for safe guards and regulation regarding the use of discretion; the role of parental responsibility; how juveniles can access appropriate services such as drug and alcohol programmes and mental health facilities; the recommendation that there should be a general presumption of bail without conditions for young people and the recommendation to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years in Northern Ireland.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the Review Team for the briefing and they left the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request copies of the consultation responses from the Department of Justice to assist further consideration of the issues.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule a visit to Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre into the work programme.

5. Overview briefing and up-date on delivery of the Prison Service SEE Programme

Colin McConnell, Director General, Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour, Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development, Max Murray, Director of Offender Policy and Regimes and Graeme Wilkinson, Director of Finance and Corporate Services joined the meeting at 3.34 p.m.

The officials updated the Committee on the current position progress with regard to the Prison Service Strategic Efficiency and Effectiveness Programme.

Mr Givan declared an interest as a family member is an employee of the Northern Ireland Prison Service .

A question and answer session followed covering issues including the current position in relation to the proposed exit scheme and the likely impact if the package did not attract enough interest; the rationale for changes to the management grade structure; the delay in recruitment of the change managers; current relations with the Prison Officers Association; the efficiency savings that would be made; the extent of organisational risk from losing a large number of experienced staff; how management would present the scheme and treat staff; and the likely effect of the Prison Review final report.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

6. Briefing by officials on proposals for the way forward in relation to a Sentencing Guidelines Mechanism for Northern Ireland

Gareth Johnston, Head of Justice Strategy Division, Department of Justice, Claire Archbold, Office of the Lord Chief Justice and Anne O’Connell, Criminal Policy Unit, Department of Justice joined the meeting at 4.30 p.m.

The Committee noted correspondence from the Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP relating to concerns regarding the inadequacy of a sentence for manslaughter.

The officials briefed the Committee on the preferred way forward for a Sentencing Guidelines Mechanism.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as how the proposed mechanism differed from option 1 in the consultation document; how sentencing guidelines are used and whether they are binding; how the process of community engagement would work and whether what was proposed was education of engagement; what information was available on the level of discrepancies in sentencing; how the proposed mechanism will be evaluated in terms of increasing public confidence; the make-up of the Judicial Sentencing group and the criteria and process for recruiting lay members to the group; and the issue of mandatory guidelines or tariffs for certain offences.

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

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice highlighting the concerns raised during the briefing session and requesting a response.

7. PSNI and PSNI Reserve Injury Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2011

The Committee noted that the Department of Justice was undertaking a consultation exercise on the draft PSNI and PSNI Reserve Injury on Duty (Amendment) Regulations 2011.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write regarding a mistake in the written briefing paper.

8. Draft Committee Report on the Proposed Legislative Consent Motion regarding the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

The Committee considered a draft report of its consideration of the Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) in relation to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to allow for the sharing of information on individuals financial resources from government departments in Northern Ireland and England & Wales for the purpose of determining eligibility for civil and criminal legal aid.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the report and appendices.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the report should be circulated to all MLAs prior to the debate on the LCM.

9. Inquiry into Victims and Witnesses of Crime – Draft Terms of Reference

The Committee considered draft terms of reference for its inquiry into the criminal justice services available to victims and witnesses of crime in Northern Ireland which would inform the content of the proposed new 5 year strategy for victims and witnesses of crime that the Department of Justice intended to develop. An outline timetable for the inquiry and possible areas for research were also considered.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the terms of reference for the inquiry.

Agreed: The Committee agreed a draft public notice.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to commission two research papers to inform the inquiry.

10. Correspondence

i The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request for information on the timescale for consideration of the draft Programme for Government.

ii The Committee noted an invitation from the Minister of Justice to the ‘Justice in the Community’ Awards on Wednesday 19 October in Parliament Buildings.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request information on the successful organisations/individuals.

iii The Committee noted a copy of a response from the Department of Justice to correspondence from a Ms S O’Neill regarding Victim Support NI.

iv The Committee considered correspondence from the Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP regarding concerns raised about a sentence imposed for manslaughter.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to seek clarification of whether an appeal had been lodged in relation to the sentence.

v The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development regarding rural crime.

vi The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel regarding the PSNI Director of Human Resources attending a meeting to brief the Finance and Personnel Committee on equal pay issues relating to PSNI civilian staff.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the PSNI Director of Resources.

vii The Committee noted reports from the Bamford Monitoring Group - Voices on Mental Health and Learning Disability.

viii The Committee noted the Consumer Council of Northern Ireland Annual Report 2010-2011.

11. Chairman’s Business

i. The Chairman advised the Committee that the Commission established to investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights had written requesting a meeting with the Justice Committee. The Commission had also requested a meeting with the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and arrangements for a lunch on Wednesday 9 November were currently being considered.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the possibility of the lunch being organised on a joint basis with the OFMDFM Committee should be explored.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request a copy of the Commission’s programme for its visit to Northern Ireland.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to commission a research paper on justice related issues covered in the report on a draft Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

ii. The Chairman advised the Committee that he had met with the Commissioner for Children and Young People. At the meeting the Commissioner had referred to the first report of the Review of the Northern Ireland Criminal Records Regime conducted by Sunita Mason and highlighted some issues she felt remained outstanding and she had now written on the matter.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to give further consideration to the issues and whether a briefing by Ms Mason should be arranged when the second report on the Review of the Northern Ireland Criminal Records Regime is published.

12. Any Other Business

None.

13. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will be held on Thursday 6 October 2011 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

5.56 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
6 October 2011

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