Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Jeffrey Donaldson (Chairperson)
Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mrs Carmel Hanna
Mr Danny Kennedy
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Ian McCrea
Mr Alan McFarland
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín
Mr John O’Dowd
Mr George Robinson

The Chairperson (Mr Donaldson):

Yesterday, the Deputy Chairperson and I met with the special advisers to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. Gail McKibbin from the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Committee Clerk were present for the discussions. Before I give my report of yesterday’s meeting, we should determine whether members want to hear that report in public session, as this meeting is at the moment, or in private session.

Mr McFarland:

If we are to be open, perhaps we should hear the report in private session.

The Chairperson:

Are members content that we move into private session to allow for a brief discussion on my report of yesterday’s meeting? We will resume in public session immediately after.
Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

The Committee is back in public session. I ask members to declare their relevant interests. I declare an interest as a member of the Policing Board and the Privy Council.

Mr I McCrea:

I am a member of Cookstown District Policing Partnership.

The Chairperson:

We proceed to our discussion on the matters to be transferred. I refer you to tab 4 of the members’ pack, which contains a summary of the three matters to be transferred that remain unresolved. The three matters are public order, as stated in paragraph 10 of schedule 3 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which relates to appointments to the Parades Commission and its operation; the future powers of the army to operate in support of the police; and the PSNI policy of 50:50 recruitment. The Committee has not reached a conclusion on those issues. We received some material from the Northern Ireland Office on some of the matters. The Committee Clerk has provided a note on each of the issues.

At our meeting on 16 October, members agreed to wait for the interim report of the strategic review of parading before dealing with appointments to the Parades Commission and its operation. Subsequently, I tabled questions in the House of Commons, and the response from the Secretary of State indicated that the interim report was expected in the new year. It has not yet come, and “the new year” can mean anything. When someone uses that phrase, he or she usually means early in the new year, but the Secretary of State did not even say that. However, I think that he meant in the first part of the new year.

The date of the publication of the final report will depend on the time that it takes to complete the consultations on the interim report. It is possible that the interim report will not have been published before this Committee has to report to the Assembly; it depends on the definition of new year. The Committee will, therefore, have to try to reach consensus in the absence of the interim report. However, we may include in our report a reference to an impending interim report, which may have implications for appointments to the Parades Commission and its operation. Perhaps we will have the interim report by then.

Ms Ní Chuilín:

Our report will be an interim report based on our receipt of an interim report.

The Chairperson:

That is right, Carál.

Ms Ní Chuilín:

The plot thickens.

The Chairperson:

No one could ever accuse us of being complex.

Mr Kennedy:

I hope that everyone is following this at home.

Mr McCausland:

There is a presumption in that conversation that the review will recommend the continuation of a Parades Commission.

The Chairperson:

That is not necessarily correct, Nelson.

Mr McCausland:

In some of the conversations, there was such a presumption.

The Chairperson:

That may not be the case.

How do Members want to deal with that? One option, which we have used before, is to include a sentence such as this:
“There were diverse opinions about the transfer of appointments to the Parades Commission and its operation, and there was no consensus about whether this should continue to be a reserved matter.”
We could then leave it to the Committee Clerk to come back to us if the interim report is published, in which case we may want to amend our position. Members should bear in mind that this will be an interim report only — it will require consultation; it will not be conclusive. The Committee may have to have regard to it, but that does not necessarily mean that the interim report will be definitive. By their very nature, interim reports are not the final say.

In order that our position can be noted in the Hansard report, will members clarify where each party stands on the transfer of appointments to the Parades Commission and its operation? Should appointments to the Parades Commission and its operation continue to be a reserved matter or should responsibility for that function be transferred in the devolution of policing and justice?

What does Sinn Féin think?

Mr McCartney:

Sinn Féin believes that the function should be transferred.

The Chairperson:

Do you mean appointments to the Parades Commission and its operation?

Ms Ní Chuilín:

Yes.

The Chairperson:

What does the SDLP think?

Mr Attwood:

The function should be transferred, with built-in community safeguards to ensure that there is no potential for abuse relating to decisions being appealed or nominations to the Parades Commission — if it continues to operate.

The Chairperson:

What does the UUP think?

Mr McFarland:

The UUP hopes that a solution to this difficulty will come from Lord Ashdown’s review. At the moment, the last thing that is needed is to try to solve the parades issue through debate on the Floor of the House.

Mr Kennedy:

Also, the UUP is on record as being in favour of the abolition of the Parades Commission.

Mr McCausland:

My party has a similar view.

The Chairperson:

We have two different viewpoints: one favours the retention of the Parades Commission and believes that it should continue to function under the auspices of the Assembly, with appointments made to it —

Mr O’Dowd:

[inaudible]…on the report as well.

The Chairperson:

It is not beyond our capacity to come up with a form of words, acknowledging that there is a review, the Committee awaits the interim report, and the interim report may have implications for devolution.

The question is whether, in principle, we agree that responsibility for parades should be transferred or remain as a reserved matter. Remaining as a reserved matter means that the responsibility can be transferred at any stage in the future. There is no consensus on that. Are members content, in the meantime, to proceed using the formula that:

“there were diverse opinions about the transfer of appointments to the Parades Commission and its operation, and there was no consensus about whether this should continue to be a reserved matter.”
That is a statement of the position at the moment. Are members content that we add to that a reference to the review of parading? Receipt of the interim report by 29 February may influence that wording. Are members content to park that issue? The Committee Clerk will work on a form of words. If we receive the interim report, we can determine whether it has implications for either of the two main opinions expressed by members. Are members happy to proceed on that basis? In any event, regardless of whether it receives the interim report, the Committee’s report will refer to the review of parading, but its opinion on the review might change. However, in principle, the Committee is not agreed on whether responsibility for parades should be devolved at this stage.

Ms Ní Chuilín:

I am content. Paddy Ashdown and the Committee Clerk can sort it all out.

The Chairperson:

Absolutely. My money is on the Committee Clerk. Perhaps I should ask him whether he is happy enough with that. Are you?

The Committee Clerk:

I am delighted.

The Chairperson:

We shall move on. The Committee requested that the NIO provide clarification on the future powers of the army to operate in support of the police and the nature of the post-normalisation devolved powers.

The clarification that we received from the NIO states:

“The Secretary of State has provided clarification with regard to the following matters:

  • The Secretary of State believes that it would not be appropriate for the military support powers contained in the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 to be devolved.
  • The military support powers contained in sections 21 to 42 of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 will continue to be available, on the request of the Chief Constable, to provide support to the police.
  • With regard to the powers conferred on the Police by this statute, the NIO has confirmed that the Chief Constable would not need to make a request to the Secretary of State in order to invoke these powers.
  • The devolved Minister would be able to exercise section 29 and 32 powers (power to take possession of land and to close roads by order) independently. The Secretary of State would only wish to exercise this power himself in relation to non-devolved matters.”

We do not have consensus on this matter. Sinn Féin and the SDLP favour the devolution of those powers to the new Department, and, from recollection, the UUP and the DUP wish to see them remain as excepted rather than reserved matters.

Mr McFarland:

Defence, foreign affairs and Treasury functions remain with Westminster. Military support powers come under the heading of defence, which is a national issue.

The Chairperson:

It is fair to say that neither Scotland nor Wales has those powers. Again, I will put to you the tried and tested formula: there were diverse opinions about the transfer of excepted matters, and there was no consensus on seeking an amendment to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to allow for the Assembly to request the transfer of such powers. If the Committee wishes, we could include a reference that the Assembly would continue to review reserved matters, which are in a separate category, but, under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, we do not have the authority to transfer excepted powers. Are members content to proceed on the basis of no consensus being reached?

Members indicated assent.

Mr O’Dowd:

We see no role for the British Army in this situation.

The Chairperson:

That will be reflected in the evidence that has been given.

Mr Kennedy:

Presumably, you see no role for any other army?

Mr Attwood:

There is a contradiction in the NIO statement, because, on the one hand, it states that those matters are excepted, but, on the other hand, it states that the Chief Constable will be able to go directly to the Army to get military support and will not have to go through the political authority of the Westminster Government. Therefore, it seems that you cannot get anywhere near those matters, but it seems that the Chief Constable can exercise those powers without political approval. The Chief Constable is operationally responsible for his own business; therefore, it breaks through the fiction that there are matters that the British Government want to reserve.

In the NIO document, it states that it does not want to know what the Chief Constable is asking for — he can go afterwards and account to the Policing Board and to the Minister for justice. Whatever the situation may be in Scotland and Wales, the British Government have conceded, in some marginal way at least, a significant point of principle.

The Chairperson:

In essence you are saying that while the Government reserve the authority to confer those powers on the Chief Constable, they give no such right to those to whom the Chief Constable must be accountable.

Mr Attwood:

That is not quite what I am saying. Normally, one deals with excepted matters through the British Government or their Ministers. The role of the British Army in the North is an excepted matter. The Chief Constable can go to the general officer commanding — or any other relevant person in the British Army — to ask for help from the Army. There is, therefore, a fourth category of power; it is not exactly an excepted matter.

The Chairperson:

I take your point, Alex; it straddles the line. The British Army is accountable to the Ministry of Defence — not the Northern Ireland Office. There is a number of variables that result in what you describe, Alex. Are members content to proceed on the basis that we have not reached consensus?

Members indicated assent.

At our meeting on 16 October, there was no consensus on whether the PSNI’s policy of 50:50 recruitment should be a reserved matter. It was agreed that the matter would be reconsidered following the oral evidence from the Chief Constable. I do not think that it was discussed in great detail with the Chief Constable last week.

Mr McCartney:

It may no longer be an issue.

The Chairperson:

Why would that be?

Mr I McCrea:

Hopefully, it will be abolished.

The Chairperson:

Yes, by 2010. That is a hint for Raymond about the timing of the devolution of policing and justice. Members, can we revert to our formula? There were diverse opinions about the transfer of 50:50 recruitment. There was no consensus about whether it should continue to be a reserved matter. Are members agreed to proceed on that basis?

I will acknowledge the positions of each of the parties: Sinn Féin and the SDLP are in favour of the transfer of those powers; the UUP and the DUP are not in favour of the transfer of those reserved matters at this stage.

Mr McFarland:

They expire in two years’ time anyway.

The Chairperson:

That is correct. We are agreed to disagree on those three matters, and that will be reflected in the report that we will prepare for the Assembly.

Members will recall that, at our last meeting, we decided that we would have a further discussion on the structure and accountability matters today. It was suggested that political parties would prepare papers for discussion, but given the doubt that had arisen on the matters relating to OFMdFM, we said that it would be understandable if parties wanted to withhold those papers until we got some clarity about the respective party-political positions. How do members feel about tabling papers now? We can proceed with a discussion today. Do members want to table papers in response to the questions that were identified in the research papers that we received? How does each party want to proceed? To date, we have not received any papers — so everybody is in the same position.

Mr Attwood:

Consistent to what I said earlier about maximising the position of the Committee, parties should begin to show their hand — and that means producing papers.

The Chairperson:

What about Sinn Feín members?

Mr McCartney:

The Sinn Féin paper is being prepared.

The Chairperson:

The DUP paper is also being worked on.

Mr Kennedy:

The Ulster Unionist Party paper is being prepared. There is consensus; we will show you our report when Lord Ashdown reports and somebody else does something on 50:50 recruitment.

The Chairperson:

Maybe when Arsenal wins the Premiership?

Mr Kennedy:

Arsenal will come closer than Chelsea.

The Chairperson:

Will we set a deadline for the submission of the papers to the Committee?

Mrs Hanna:

There should not be any deadlines.

The Committee Clerk:

Chairperson, at last week’s meeting, there was a request for Committee office staff to produce a paper on accountability and structures, arguably in the absence of the party-political papers. That paper has been produced and tabled, and I am sorry that I could not get it to members sooner. It deals particularly with proposals in the NIO letter of 15 October 2007, where there were projections about where the various organisations in the existing policing and justice family might sit and how they might be managed. It majors on the relationships and touches a little on the accountability. It does not, for example, address whether there should be one or two Ministers, whether they should act jointly, or whether there should be a deputy Minister. It concentrates on structures and accountability.

Members have been given another paper, which was requested as a result of the oral evidence session with P J Fitzpatrick in which he clarified some points; it is also relevant to the other oral evidence sessions where governance and accountability came to the fore.

The briefing paper described as A&ER 35 — 07/08 tries to capture what has been said in written submissions about governance and accountability or what emerged in the course of oral evidence sessions. It tries to match that against the assumptions that the NIO was making about where particular organisations might be. Committee members could embark on discussions around structure and accountability without prejudice to any party-political positions that they might want to declare in their papers. There is some work to be done — Alex Attwood referred to “maximising”. There is scope available, if the Committee is minded to take the briefing paper, work through it, and agree where at least some of the organisations might fit and what the lines of accountability might be.

When the Committee discusses the evidence from, for example, the Lord Chief Justice, during which members heard about arm’s-length relationships, independence, and so on, those discussions will probably feature in party papers. However, some matters could be covered before the parties submit their papers, in much the same way as when the Committee considered the matters to be transferred. Some matters, arguably, are virtually givens, and members would be endorsing the assumptions being made by the NIO. That opinion is in the absence of any suggestion that the Committee should do otherwise.

The Chairperson:

I thank the Committee Clerk and staff for preparing the paper, which gives us an overview of where we are in relation to the structures and the issues that need to be considered. In some instances, there are no issues, but there are a few matters that, undoubtedly, need further consideration.

Do members want to take a run through the paper and see whether there is anything that can be cleared today, meaning that we can reduce the list to a core set of issues that will inform each party’s paper and will continue to inform our discussions? The sooner we get the papers, the better. However, it would be unfair if one party paper were to be circulated in advance of their all being circulated. Even if we receive a paper, I will ask the Committee Clerk to hold it in confidence until other papers are received, so that the four papers can be circulated together.

In the meantime, as has been the case with our discussions on the functions to be transferred, we will do our best to reduce the number of outstanding issues and to get to the point of either achieving consensus or needing to consult our parties again.

Are members content to run through the paper that the Committee staff have provided to see whether there are any matters that we can usefully resolve today, meaning that the number of issues can be reduced to a more manageable level?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

I do not think that the bodies are listed in any particular order. The Northern Ireland Prison Service is referred to first. We know that, at the moment, the Prison Service is an agency of the Northern Ireland Office, under the control of the Secretary of State. Post-devolution, it will transfer to what is known in the draft legislation as the Department of justice. The name of the Department may change, but for the purposes of our discussions, we will call it the Department of justice.

At this stage, no issues have arisen on the post-devolution arrangements for the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Are members agreed that there are no issues and that we can reflect that in our report, or does anyone have an issue that they feel should be examined in the context of the transfer of responsibility for the Prison Service to the new Department?

Are members agreed with this position?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

Forensic Science Northern Ireland is also an agency of the Northern Ireland Office, under the control of the Secretary of State. Post-devolution, it will transfer to the Department of justice. Are there any issues about the principle of devolving responsibility for that agency to the new Department?

Are members agreed that there are no outstanding issues?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

The Youth Justice Agency of Northern Ireland is an agency of the Northern Ireland Office, under the control of the Secretary of State, and, post-devolution, responsibility for its functions will transfer to the Department of justice. Are members happy that no issues need to be addressed in relation to that agency?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

The Compensation Agency for Northern Ireland is an agency of the Northern Ireland Office, under the control of the Secretary of State. Post-devolution, it will transfer to the Department of justice. The Compensation Agency administers compensation schemes covering actions taken under the Terrorism Act 2000. Although the Act will not be a devolved matter, the agency will likely be asked to continue to administer applications for compensation, which are now at a fairly low level, on the basis of a service-level agreement. All that we have to do is satisfy ourselves that we are happy for that arrangement to continue. It is similar to other arrangements for other Northern Ireland Departments. There are other matters — for example, Home Office matters — that are not transferred but that are administered by local Departments under service-level agreements. Are members content to proceed on that basis?

Mr McCartney:

There are some aspects of compensation arrangements that afford the British Secretary of State the right of disapproval, even though the agency might recommend compensation. Sinn Féin would have concerns about that aspect.

The Chairperson:

If that matter relates to compensation under criminal justice legislation, it will transfer here anyway, Raymond, so it would no longer be under the control of the Secretary of State. I think that it would fall to the Minister, or Ministers, for justice.

Are members content?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

The Police Ombudsman is operationally independent. At present, the Crown is advised by the Prime Minister and Secretary of State on such appointments. Post-devolution, a possible advisory role on appointments to this office may be devolved to the Northern Ireland Minister or OFMdFM. The issue for the Committee is whether, when requesting the devolution of policing, the parties represented in the Assembly will want to consider the advisory role for appointments to that office. In others words, do we want the Minister, or Ministers, in the Department of justice to take on the advisory role, or do we want OFMdFM to take on that role? Alternatively, do we want the advisory role to continue to be a matter for the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister?

Mr Attwood:

I do not want to second-guess the content of the paper that we have been provided with, but are we sure that it is just an advisory role and not an executive role? Obviously, responsibility for the office will be devolved if devolution goes ahead. However, that does not mean that the arrangements regarding appointments need to be devolved — responsibility for the appointment of the Lord Chief Justice, for example, will not be devolved.

The Chairperson:

That is correct, and the issue is whether the local Administration wants to retain an advisory role in the appointment process.

Mr Attwood:

Will the local Administration have more than an advisory role? Will OFMdFM, or another office, have an executive role in the appointment of a future Police Ombudsman? The research paper may well be right, but, at the back of my mind, I wonder whether the Ombudsman is currently appointed by people from this Building, rather than through the Secretary of State’s recommendation to the Prime Minister and the Crown.

The Committee Clerk:

I would need to clarify that with the NIO, but I understand that the only element that we are discussing is the advisory role for the appointment of the Police Ombudsman. As the Chairman correctly described, the advisory role for the appointment would transfer to the new Minister or to OFMdFM. The question is whether the Committee, or the Assembly, also wants to ensure that the Assembly has the scope and opportunity to advise whoever makes the appointment.

Ms Ní Chuilín:

We need clarification on that point.

Mr McFarland:

Discussion on the devolution of the advisory role for the appointment of the Police Ombudsman was being held back because of the sensitivity of that post. The Committee is being asked whether it has any concerns about the suggestion. Therefore, we need more detail.

The Chairperson:

First, can the Committee Clerk double-check the point that Alex raised about the current process for appointing the Police Ombudsman? Secondly, assuming that the advisory role would be devolved to either OFMdFM or the Minister, or Ministers, in the Department of justice, can parties consider whether they want the advisory role to be devolved?

Mr McCausland:

The appointment of the Police Ombudsman would remain a Crown appointment.

The Chairperson:

It would remain a Crown appointment. The appointment would be subject to the advice of either the Prime Minister and Secretary of State, as it is at present, or OFMdFM or the Minister, or Ministers, at the Department of justice. While clarification is sought on the query that Alex raised, I ask the parties to consider those possibilities. Members, we will park the issue to allow for consultation at party-political level.

We move on to discuss the Northern Ireland Police Fund. The fund is a non-statutory company that is limited by guarantee and made up of 10 directors. It is financed by the Northern Ireland Office and receives approximately £1·8 million a year. The NIO oversees its corporate governance and financial propriety. The present arrangement is that, post-devolution, the Assembly will have an oversight role. The issue is who will continue to pay the £1·8 million, but I am not sure that we can answer that question.

Mr McFarland:

Presumably, the funding would come from the policing budget, which would transfer across.

The Chairperson:

Members, should we seek clarification from the Northern Ireland Office on whether that £1·8 million will come out of the policing budget, or whether it is a separate —

Mr McFarland:

Is the money ring-fenced?

The Chairperson:

Yes, should we ask the NIO to clarify whether the money will be ring-fenced as a separate arrangement? Should we also ask whether, in the event of devolution and the Assembly not asking for the power to fund the Northern Ireland Police Fund, the NIO will continue to provide the funding? Are members content that we seek clarification from the NIO on those matters to put us in a better-informed position to make a decision?

Members indicated assent.

Ms Hanna:

Is that fund for retired police officers?

The Chairperson:

The fund is mainly for widows and disabled police officers, and their children. It includes an educational bursary arrangement.

Are members content to proceed on the basis that we will seek clarification from the NIO as to whether the funding comes from the police budget or is ring-fenced out of the overall NIO budget, and whether, in the event of devolution, the NIO intends to continue funding the police fund if it is not paid for by the Assembly? When we have that response we will be better able to decide what we want to do.

Do members agree?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

The Probation Board for Northern Ireland is a non-departmental public body. After devolution, probation will be devolved, and responsibility for the Probation Board will be transferred to the new Department of justice. The board and its members will be appointed by, and will be accountable to, the Northern Ireland Minister, or Ministers, for justice.

Certain issues will arise. The Criminal Justice Review 2000 recommended that the Probation Board should become a departmental agency, similar to the Prison Service or the Youth Justice Agency. The NIO decided that the future status of the Probation Board should be decided by the Assembly. The Probation Board outlined an option to create a single body that would encompass the Prison Service, the Youth Justice Agency and the board. However, it advocates the continuation of the present arrangements, saying that the changes that were made in England and Wales were disruptive and provided little benefit. The board believes that a public-body model is more appropriate than an agency of a Department.

The Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) supports the recommendation of the Criminal Justice Review 2000 that the Probation Board might become an executive agency following devolution. However, the CJI believes that some expertise of the current board should be retained by non-executive appointments to the agency management board.

That is the current position. We must decide whether to accept the recommendation of the Criminal Justice Review, and recommend in our report that, post-devolution, instead of being a non-departmental public body, the Probation Board should become an agency of the new Department of justice. Alternatively, do we look for another option, or do we simply park the issue, saying that it will be for the Department of justice to consult with the Assembly about future arrangements for the Probation Board? The NIO has said that it is not going to legislate to change the board’s status, so, in any event, it will transfer as a non-departmental public body.

Is it our place to make a recommendation? Is this issue so important that it should properly be a matter for the new Department to take forward through a process of public consultation and Committee scrutiny? I am reluctant to react in a knee-jerk fashion. We have taken some evidence on the subject, but there is a bigger issue, and I am not sure that we need to deal with that in our report.

We must flag up the current arrangement that will continue post-devolution and the recommendation of the Criminal Justice Review. We might recommend that the new Department should produce proposals at an early stage. Are members content to ask the Committee Clerk to draw up a form of words on that?

Members indicated assent.

Mr Attwood:

I agree with that course of action. It would be useful to encourage the consideration of a future work programme for the prospective justice Minister and related Committee. Last week, I met members of the Probation Board in an unrelated capacity. The Chief Probation Officer told me that the Probation Board’s view on the matter had shifted and that it now favoured the agency option, as exemplified by the Prison Service, so that it would have more of an integral role in a new justice Department and in the wider justice family. A future justice Minister and his Department might be able to achieve a quick consensus on the matter, which would facilitate a much better administration of justice thereafter.

The Chairperson:

Alex, perhaps in the form of words that we send to the new Committee, we could refer to the recommendation in the Criminal Justice Review 2000. We do not need to refer to the view of any particular body now. We simply need to encourage the Department to introduce proposals at an early stage on the future status of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland.

The Criminal Justice Review 2000 recommended the establishment of an independent Northern Ireland Law Commission:

“to keep under review criminal and civil law”.
The chief executive has been appointed, but, presumably, the commission is not yet fully functioning. Post-devolution, the Government’s position is that responsibility for the Northern Ireland Law Commission should transfer to the Northern Ireland Minister, or Ministers, for justice. The review indicated that a new Department of justice should have responsibility for the Northern Ireland Law Commission. If policing and justice matters are devolved, it will be necessary to put in place arrangements to ensure that the Law Commission has the opportunity to consult appropriately with the Assembly.

Clerk, is it up to the Committee to suggest what those arrangements should be, or is it simply required to flag up the need to put in place the arrangements after the powers have been devolved?

The Committee Clerk:

It is more the latter, Chair. I have included that point because, although no witnesses from the Law Commission were called before the Committee, its written submission requested clarity on what form the engagement would take and what would be the lines of accountability and relationships. That fits in with the broader principles that the Committee has been discussing.

The Chairperson:

Are members content for the Committee Clerk to draw up a form of words that simply flag up the need for arrangements to be put in place to ensure that the Law Commission has the opportunity to consult appropriately with the Assembly? When the Committee agrees the wording, it will be included in the report.

Mr McFarland:

Presumably the relevant Assembly Committee will exchange information with the Law Commission anyway, because that is the usual system. Surely no additional special arrangements are required, other than to ensure the Law Commission’s access to that Committee.

The Committee Clerk:

I do not think that further arrangements need be established. However, the Law Commission made that specific point in its submission, and I draw it to the Committee’s attention for endorsement and to agree that it is a valid point. As for the logistics, you are right. As Peter May said last week, much of the detail of how the relationship operates in practice will be sorted out after the powers have been devolved. However, if the Committee is minded to endorse the Law Commission’s suggestion, it is free to do so in the report, but it does not need to do much beyond that.

The Chairperson:

Are members content to move on?

Mr Attwood:

Should the Committee not recommend that arrangements whereby the Law Commission can consult with the Assembly and the Minister are put in place quickly? We saw from the Law Commission’s submission that although it is in its infancy, it has some level of work programme, and its chairman, Declan Morgan, will be anxious to make progress on that. The Committee should join the circle of relationships between the Law Commission, the Assembly and the Minister.

Mr McFarland:

After the devolution of policing and justice, surely those functions become part of the Minister’s Department, do they not? The responsibility should transfer to the Minister, who will presumably do the rounds and chat to the people for whom he or she is responsible. After the transfer of powers, an Assembly Committee will be established. To draw it to the attention of that Committee, perhaps we should include in the report the fact that the Law Commission has expressed its desire for early interaction with it. That should happen anyway, and I am not sure that a special point needs to be made.

Mr Attwood:

It does need to be made, simply because the Law Commission has just been established, the correct lines of communication and management must be set up and its work programme should be quickly informed by what the Assembly wants, not just by the commission, as a self-starting organisation.

Mr McFarland:

The Law Commission will be well-established by the time policing and justice powers have been devolved.

The Chairperson:

Given that the commission has a special responsibility for reviewing civil and criminal law, and we are the legislative body, Alex is right. We must decide which lines of communication are appropriate. We need to ask what will prompt a review of this law or that law: is it the Minister, is it the scrutiny Committee, or something else? Is it the case history? It is right that we determine the correct lines for that. It elevates the status of the commission, vis-à-vis the Assembly, a little above some of the other bodies. It is very specific to our work; it will be our responsibility to legislate for whatever changes the commission proposes. Therefore, it is important that we have a good working relationship with it. The Committee Clerk will draw up something for us; we can have a look at that and ensure that it satisfies the points that both Alex and Alan have made.

Are members content?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

We move on to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel. That panel is a non-departmental public body funded by the Northern Ireland Office but independent of it. Members of the appeals panel are appointed by the Secretary of State. Post-devolution, the panel will be funded by the Department of justice and the Northern Ireland Minister, or Ministers, for justice would be responsible for appointments to it. We are aware of no issues arising from that proposal. Those are the post-devolution arrangements.

Are members content?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

We move on to the Parades Commission. We have already discussed this under the heading ‘Matters to be Transferred’. For management purposes, the commission is an executive non-departmental public body and it is funded entirely by the Northern Ireland Office. The Government’s preference, post-devolution, is that responsibility for all aspects of parades, including appointments to the Parades Commission and its operation, should be devolved. At this stage, there is no consensus on the devolution of powers, either for the operation of, or appointments to, the Parades Commission. We have dealt with that already, subject to the issue coming back again after our report.

Are members happy to proceed on that basis?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

The Northern Ireland Policing Board is a non-departmental public body. The NIO has stated that following devolution, it will be for the Assembly and the Northern Ireland Minister, or Ministers, for policing to allocate funding from the Northern Ireland block grant. Following devolution, responsibility for the appointment of independent board members will transfer to the Northern Ireland Minister, or Ministers, for policing.

We may need a memorandum of understanding to clarify relationships that exist between the PSNI, the board and the Assembly Committee, to deal with any potential conflict of interest. That is the main issue that we need to flag up in our report. It arose in some of the evidence that we received.

Mr McFarland:

Alex and I were on the first Policing Board. It troubled us at that stage, and it does again, as we are involved in the roll-in to setting up this relationship again. Potentially, 21 MLAs could be involved in policing and justice: 10 on the Policing Board and 11 on the Committee.

The Chairperson:

Plus the Minister?

Mr McFarland:

Or, potentially, two Ministers. Therefore, 23 Members of the Assembly could be involved. We are already getting a feel of how pressed parties are ensuring that MLAs attend Committees and meet quorums. The question is whether we let this run for the moment, and take the hit on people’s time and effort, or should we consider, while we have a bit of time to discuss it, how the process could be better organised? This is just a personal view; but it is an issue that we must consider.

One benefit that the Policing Board brought was that it received political input. It probably still does. At times, that was absolutely vital to sorting out problems. Parties were able to get together and discuss how all this would work.

Political input is needed on the board to ensure that its success is not wrecked. The question is whether the Assembly can afford for 10 MLAs to be involved. Could appointees who are chosen by the five political parties using the d’Hondt system achieve the same results? Appointees would, therefore, represent political parties, but not be MLAs.

There is conflict between the different roles of the board and the Committee. The board has an operational role — the estate belongs to the board and it processes the budget. The question is should the Committee takes its hands off now, not get excited, and accept that if responsibility for the Policing Board is devolved, 21, 23 — or however many MLAs — will be involved directly in the issue? Or should the Committee try to give a steer — obviously, after discussions with party groups — on maintaining political influence on the board while trying to make the most effective use of MLAs’ time and effort?

The Chairperson:

At least two issues arise from that, Mr McFarland. One is the principle of whether MLAs should be members of the Policing Board. Another is whether, if an MLA is a member of the Policing Board, he or she can be a member of the scrutiny Committee. There is potential —

Mr McFarland:

After various discussions, the Programme for Government Committee agreed that a Policing Board MLA should not be a member of the scrutiny Committee, because he or she would have conflicting roles.

The Chairperson:

Yes. The Committee would need to reflect that in its report. The issue is party political. Therefore, I will ask the Committee Clerk to circulate a note among all parties, asking them to put forward their party-political viewpoints in their position papers: do they agree that current arrangements should continue — that MLAs should continue to constitute 10 members of the Policing Board; do they agree with the Programme for Government Committee’s recommendation that when an MLA is a member of the Policing Board, he or she cannot be a member of the scrutiny Committee; and if MLAs are not members of the Policing Board, should political parties appoint 10 political representatives — who are not MLAs — from their membership?

I ask the Committee Clerk to circulate a note on those issues to parties in order that they consider the matter in their position papers. The issues are appointments to the Policing Board and potential conflicts of interest — for example, the time involved. Should there be 10 MLAs on the Policing Board? If not, should they be replaced by appointees from the political parties? If an MLA is a member of the Policing Board, does the Committee agree with the recommendation of the Programme for Government Committee that he or she should not be a member of the scrutiny Committee? I ask that parties’ political positions on those matters be reflected in their position papers.

Mr G Robinson:

The financing of the board concerns me somewhat. Funds will have to come out of the Northern Ireland Budget. I am worried about that because money is tight enough for Departments. Will extra money be available?

Mr McFarland:

The extra money will also be transferred.

The Chairperson:

On the devolution of policing, its entire budget, which includes money for the Policing Board, will be transferred. It will then become part of Northern Ireland’s block grant. Therefore, that which would previously have been expended by the Northern Ireland Office on all matters to be devolved will automatically transfer with the block grant. The money will not have to be found in existing resources.

Mr Atwood, in your absence, the Committee has agreed that the Committee Clerk will circulate a note to political parties, asking that when they prepare their position papers, they will address the issue of political appointments to the Policing Board; whether they agree in principle that there should still be 10 MLAs on the Policing Board; if not, whether they should be replaced by 10 political representatives that are appointed by political parties; and whether they agree with the Programme for Government Committee’s recommendation that if an MLA is a member of the Policing Board, he or she should not be a member of the scrutiny Committee.

Mr McCartney:

Some clarification on MLA’s roles should be provided. The suggestion could be made that in some situations, they are optional.

The Chairperson:

You mean a hybrid situation where it is a matter for the political parties who they appoint, be that an MLA or not.

Mr McCartney:

There should be a list of options.

The Chairperson:

If Sinn Féin want to include that, that is OK. Are members content that, subject to achieving a consensus on that, there are no other issues on the transfer of the Policing Board under devolution?

Members indicated assent.

The need for a memorandum of understanding will have to be flagged up in the Committee’s report.

The Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission is a non-departmental public body, which is sponsored by the Court Service and answerable to the Lord Chancellor. After devolution it will continue to be an NDPB (Non-Departmental Public Body) sponsored by the Department of justice. The funding, which is substantial, will transfer from the Lord Chancellor’s department via the Courts Service to the new Department.

The first issue for the Committee is whether the policy roles on legal aid should remain with the Northern Ireland Court Service, or be passed to the new Department of justice. The Northern Ireland Court Service director advocates a legal-aid system in the new Department — he told the Committee that the legal aid system should be entirely a matter for the Department, which I assume includes policy as well as funding. The current level of funding is £72 million, which is fairly substantial. The evidence from the Court Service representatives was that responsibility for legal-aid arrangements, both policy and funding, should rest with the new Department.

The second issue is whether responsibility for all aspects of civil and criminal legal aid should be carried by one body — either the Legal Services Commission or the Department — instead of being split between them. I assume that that is the policy?

The Committee Clerk:

Yes; in fact it is everything.

The Chairperson:

Right, it is everything. Assuming that the Committee accept that responsibility for the legal-aid system should transfer, on devolution, to the new Department, a further issue arises over whether responsibility for legal aid should then be devolved from the Department to the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission.

The Committee Clerk:

Essentially, the Committee is talking about the future of the Legal Services Commission.

The Chairperson:

The third issue is whether the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission should remain as a public body and be accountable to the new Department of justice, or whether it should cease to be a public body and have its responsibilities taken over by the Department. As the Committee Clerk said, we are talking about whether we continue to have a separate Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission and, if so, what its relationship will be with the Department.

Mr Attwood:

There are three questions, two of which the Committee could achieve a consensus on — I am not sure of the third. It seems incongruous that the policy role for legal aid is currently with the Northern Ireland Court Service, even though it does not want it. Therefore, it is sensible that the Court Service does not have a role on policy, and that responsibility goes to the Department or the commission.

The second question is whether one body should deal with all civil and criminal legal aid — it seems sensible that that should be the case, whether that body is the Department or the commission.

The final question is whether the Legal Services Commission (LSC) should remain as a public body, or whether the Department of justice should take over responsibility. Has the Committee heard evidence on that? I sense that a Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission is a better model. Tony Holland, who headed the Parades Commission and the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission, also thought that — he is the man to rely on.

The Chairperson:

The Chairman of the Legal Services Commission, Jim Daniell, came to see me last week, ostensibly to talk about the work of that body. He mentioned the work of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee and expressed a view on the matter. I asked him to put that view, in writing, to the Committee Clerk. The Committee Clerk has not yet received that information. I think that Mr Daniell’s views are not dissimilar to those of Tony Holland and would add a little meat to the bones.

Members are we agreed that if the Court Service does not want to continue to have responsibility for legal aid policy, it does not make sense to have it straddling more than one non-departmental body? I assume that there agreement is principle that, whether the policy is transferred to the Department or the commission, it should be transferred from the Court Service. Although we are not yet agreed on the recipient, it does not make sense — as Mr Attwood has said — to let the policy rest with the Court Service when the Court Service does not want it. One ends up with three bodies involved in legal aid which is not the most efficient way of doing things.

In their previous submission to the Committee, the Legal Services Commission said that

“In both England and Wales and in Scotland it has been deemed appropriate to keep legal aid at arm’s length from the Government. At some point in time, responsibility for policy and execution in respect of civil and criminal legal aid must be brought together. At present, the Commission has responsibility for paying out large sums of money for criminal legal aid without any control over who gets the aid and how much. It might be sensible to resolve this at devolution rather than later.”
That was the position at that time. The Chairman of the LSC will add to that, in a further written submission to the Committee, following my discussion with him.

Mr McFarland:

It makes eminent sense that the actual doling out of all that stuff is at arm’s length. Who decides the policy on that matter? The commission could decide the policy on that providing that it was answerable, in its policy role, to the Department — one would not want the Minister and the Department to give money to the commission to dole out, and to have absolutely no say on policy. Is that right? Mr Attwood, you are knowledgeable in those matters.

Mr Attwood:

Sorry. I was distracted.

The Chairperson:

If responsibility for policy transferred from the Court Service to the commission, what would the role of the Department, as the funding body, and that of the scrutiny committee be in developing future policy?

Mr Attwood:

The policy role should remain, primarily, with the Department even if the Legal Services Commission administers the money.

Mr McFarland:

However, the Legal Services Commission is suggesting — and the Chairperson has just said — that the policy should remain with the commission. Therefore, it would be administering policy. Clearly, it is sensible to hold it at arm’s length. However, the Legal Services Commission is also advocating that policy should remain with it. If that is done, is there a line of accountability, on policy, between the commission and the Department? The commission could get the head staggers and produce all sorts of weird policy —

Mr Attwood:

That would not make sense.

Mr McFarland:

No.

The Chairperson:

I hope that we will have received the brief paper from the commission by the time of next week’s Committee meeting. Is the Committee content to park the issue, in the meantime, while acknowledging that we are agreed in principle that the policy should be transferred from the Court Service? The question is whether it should be transferred to the Department or the Legal Services Commission. We will need to consider that matter. We will also need to look at where the commission sits with regard to its relationship with, and accountability to, the Department.

The Committee Clerk:

At the moment the Northern Ireland Office assumption is that it will be an executive non-departmental public body, as it currently is, reporting to the Department of justice. It envisages a future role for the Legal Services Commission.

The Chairperson:

We will park that, and come back to it when we receive the letter from the commission.

The Judicial Appointments Commission is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Court Service which is answerable to the Lord Chancellor. Post-devolution the Lord Chancellor’s responsibilities in relation to the appointment of the listed judicial offices and the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission would transfer to the First Minister and deputy First Minister acting jointly.

The issue for the Committee is that in his submission the Lord Chief Justice states that:

“it would be important for there to be a protocol between the Commission and the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister about judicial appointments.”
That is one of the areas where we do not yet have a response from OFMDFM.

Before we deal with that, are there any other issues in relation to the Judicial Appointments Commission that the Committee needs to determine? In the Committee Clerk’s view there are not.

Mr McFarland:

Presumably that is an arm’s-length issue in that we do not see OFMDFM interfering technically with the views of the commission.

The Chairperson:

Hence the reason for a protocol. In the report, I think that we should include a reference to the Lord Chief Justice’s submission, and the Committee needs to decide if it agrees with the Lord Chief Justice on the need for a protocol, and it will then be up to OFMDFM to come up with a draft of the agreement on such a protocol.

The question for the Committee is whether we think there should be a protocol. My view is that on a matter as important as that there should be, and I do not believe that prejudices the position, because it does not inhibit the power of one or the other — the commission or OFMDFM — it is simply ensuring that there is clarity on their respective roles.

The Committee Clerk:

That is part of a broader appointment process for public appointments, and essentially it gives advice about whether someone who has come through that process should ultimately be appointed.

The Chairperson:

Are members happy to make reference to the Lord Chief Justice’s submission in our report, and make it clear that we support the view that there should be a protocol drawn up between the Judicial Appointments Commission and the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister on judicial appointments? The Assembly can still reject that.

Mr McCartney:

I assume that it is envisaged that there would be.

The Chairperson:

I would have thought so — we need to flag it up as part of the preparatory work.

The Judicial Appointments Ombudsman is an independent statutory body. The Commissioner for Judicial Appointments is the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor. Post-devolution the Lord Chancellor’s functions in relation to the ombudsman would devolve to the First Minister and deputy First Minister acting jointly as these Ministers will be responsible for judicial appointments through the Judicial Appointments Commission.

No issues really arise from that. Does anyone have a point to make? Content?

Members indicated assent.

Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) Northern Ireland is a non-departmental public body. Post-devolution it will continue to be a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department of justice.

In its written submission, the CJI stated:

  • “The CJI propose the Executive call for an independent quinquennial review of CJI functions and performance.
  • The Chief Inspector must delegate the carrying out of an investigation to the PSNI if they wish to carry out the inspection. The CJI advocate that when responsibility for the PSNI transfers to the Assembly, the PSNI should inspect in Northern Ireland as agents for the CJI.
  • Propose that CJI should be able to report on specific cases. For example, HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate has been asked by the Attorney General to review the handling of certain cases which give rise to public concern.
  • Any new Department will need to appoint a new chief inspector when the current contract expires in August 2008.
  • Future resources given the fact that CJI has recently been invited to take on new responsibilities as part of the UK’s national preventative mechanism under the optional protocol to the International Convention against Torture.”

The Committee must ask whether those resources come out of our block grant or whether we get extra money for fulfilling that function.

The CJI submission also noted:

“Policing and justice should be brought together in a single Ministry. A unified Ministry would make for a strong unified criminal justice board. The present board is consultative, not executive, and the doctrine of the independence of the criminal justice agencies is allowed to militate against effective planning and management. CJI has no access to papers of the CJB, not does it inspect the NIO — aside from its executive agencies. Executive operations of the Ministry, for example community safety partnerships, should be open to scrutiny.”
Those are the issues relating to the CJI’s written submission. How do we want to take those matters forward? Do we make specific recommendations or do we flag up the issues that we feel need to be considered early by the new Department in consultation with the Assembly and its Committee? There are some fairly major issues, but they are not really for this Committee.

Mr McFarland:

Chairman, as you know yourself from your time on the Policing Board, when this was introduced it was all a bit of a muddle, because there were empires vying with each other between the HMIC, the policing inspections, the CJI and others. The situation must be looked at and sorted out. The Chairperson is right; it would be easier done by a new Department.

The Chairperson:

Are members content for the Committee Clerk to draw up a form of words for us to consider, which would draw attention to the submission that we have received from the CJI, and that those are issues that the new Department, in conjunction with the Assembly, may wish to examine post-devolution?

One issue, which is perhaps more immediate, is the need to appoint a new chief inspector by August 2008. Obviously if devolution occurred in May 2008, there might be time to take forward an appointments procedure. However, do we want to refer to that in our report, in so far as the timing of the devolution of policing and justice will have implications for the arrangements for the appointment? If devolution occurs, the matter will fall to the new Department, which will proceed with the appointment process, and if devolution does not occur prior to August 2008, it will remain with the Northern Ireland Office. I do not think that we need to say anything more on that.

Are members content? The Committee Clerk will draw up a form of words for us so that we flag it up in the report.

Members indicated assent.

Mr Attwood:

I have a technical point, and I am sure that the matter will be taken care of in whatever transfer arrangements happen, but I thought that Kit Chivers indicated that there needed to be some work done to ensure that his reports were tabled with the Assembly, rather than with Parliament. Is that taken care of in the transfer order or does a separate provision have to be made?

The Committee Clerk

Mr Attwood’s point is part of a wider point. The easiest way to describe it would be if we were to go back to the appointment of an Attorney General, for example, and the role that the Attorney General will have in reporting to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I understand that the Assembly will have to create a Standing Order to allow that to happen. Mr Attwood is right: other arrangements need to be put in place to accommodate whatever those new arrangements will be. However, at the highest level, I cite the example of the Attorney General. In my view, the Committee is likely to recommend to the Assembly that the Committee on Procedures should develop the appropriate Standing Order. Other business arrangements will also have to be put in place.

Mr Attwood:

OK.

The Chairperson:

Are members happy to proceed on that basis?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

We now turn to the Northern Ireland Court Service, which is currently under the Lord Chancellor’s Department. Post-devolution, the NIO proposes that it becomes an executive agency of the new Department and headed by a chief executive.

Members will recall that, in his written submission and in oral evidence to the Committee, the Lord Chief Justice advocated that the Court Service be at arm’s length from the Government, with an independent board. I also recollect that the head of the Northern Ireland Court Service, Mr Lavery, also indicated a preference for a more arm’s-length relationship with the Department, perhaps on a transitional or phased basis.

The issues for members to consider are: the degree of independence of the Court Service; whether the agency should continue to deliver policy advice and legislative support, or whether those functions should transfer to the Department; and how the board of any future independent Court Service would be composed. Those issues were included in the list of issues to be addressed in the party position papers. Unless anyone has anything in particular to say at this stage, I suggest that we await the position papers and then have a discussion to see whether we can arrive at a consensus on the issue.

Members will recollect that, in his evidence, the Secretary of State said that it was not the intention of the Northern Ireland Office to legislate for any change pre-devolution, and that it would be a matter for the Assembly to take forward any change that was proposed here. That would imply that, on devolution, the Court Service would be an agency of the Department. However, it is, of course, an option for this Committee to recommend that the NIO should legislate for change prior to devolution. It would create a major problem for NIO and its legislative timetable if such a date were agreed at a political level. In any case, we must give some thought to that issue and consider whether, in principle, we want to go with the Lord Chief Justice’s proposal of an arm’s-length Court Service with its own independent board. If so, who would legislate for that pre- or post-devolution — would it be the Assembly or the Northern Ireland Office?

Are we content to proceed on that basis? Does the Committee Clerk want to raise any other points about the Court Service? This is one of the main structural matters that members really must take a view on, and, if possible, reach consensus. If not, then a political decision will have to be made on it one way or the other.

The Committee Clerk:

If the Committee would find it helpful, when I am writing to ask members to give a view on the Policing Board and the dual role and so on, I could also mention both the Court Service and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). I will list what I regard to be the relevant briefing papers and oral submissions that address the issue. I am reluctant to volunteer to suggest that I will send them all out again, because they have been issued to members on a number of occasions. However, if members review that list and then find that they are short of some documents, they can come to our office, and we will arrange for the set to be completed.

The Chairperson:

Members may also find it helpful to look at the paper that they have been given on the Court Service, which arose from the evidence from PJ Fitzpatrick.

Finally, I turn to the Public Prosecution Service. It is a non-ministerial Department under the superintendence and direction of the Attorney General. Post-devolution, it will continue to be a non-ministerial Department, with the Attorney General having a consultative role only and no power of superintendence or direction. The issues for the Committee are: the degree of independence of the PPS; the relationship between the PPS, the Attorney General and the Assembly; and funding responsibility for the PPS. In the NIO’s proposals, responsibility for funding of the PPS would sit with OFMDFM. We are aware that a definitive position on that matter has not yet been reached.

Again, members, those matters are to be addressed in the party political papers. Therefore, unless anybody has a particular issue that they want to raise, we will defer the discussion on that until receipt of all the papers. Are members happy with that for the moment?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

That has been useful in reducing significantly the number of issues about the structures that we must examine.

Mr McFarland:

I am not clear about the matter of the Attorney General, and it might be useful to add it to the list. Are we going to hire someone for that job at enormous expense? Will it be a full- or part-time position? What will the person do? The Attorney General will be the link between the court system and the Assembly, but how will that operate? In the past it was clear what he did regarding supervision of the PPS, and, in England, he used to be a member of the Government. What will our Attorney General look like and what will he or she do when we appoint one?

The Chairperson:

Do you want to add that as an additional category?

Mr McFarland:

Yes. It is the one thing that I am unclear about. How will the post operate, and what power will it have? If the Assembly wishes to have a go at somebody about something, can it access David Lavery from the Court Service, or will it have to go through the Attorney General?

The Chairperson:

I suggest that we ask the Committee Clerk to reduce the paper to the outstanding issues and to add to it the matter of the Attorney General. It should also note that the Committee seeks clarification on the role of the Attorney General and the relationships between that role and the other elements of the judicial process, including the relationship with the Assembly.

Mr McFarland:

Will you add the relationship with the First Minister and deputy First Minister, because the Attorney General will be appointed by them, although the selection comes from somewhere else? Who will pick the candidates? Will he or she have an office here with the Executive? Where will he or she be situated, and what will he or she do?

The Committee Clerk:

In private session, the Committee asked for a briefing about the arrangements that the Northern Ireland Civil Service is making to accommodate the transfer of policing and justice. Would it help if I were to flag up that issue as a potential question for the chair of the oversight board?

The Chairperson:

OK. We will also add it to the list.

Mr Attwood:

I do not want to expand the list too much, but there are four areas that we must address. First, there is the matter of the North/South agreements, which the NIO now says fall with devolution, and having in place what is required as quickly as possible thereafter. Some essential justice work is being done on a North/South basis about policy on offenders and so on.

Secondly, and this is a variation on what Alan said, what will be the relationship with the PPS of the Advocate General, that is the person in the British Government who will liaise with the PPS about serious criminal matters? What will his relationship be with our Attorney General, and what will be the flow of information between the Advocate General, the PPS, the Attorney General and the Minister?

The other two items are the issue of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), and how it will interface with the Assembly, and the issue of the security services and what relationship or flow of information will exist there. The NIO has said that it is working on what will come across from the security services to the Minister.

I apologise, Chairperson, I have to go to another meeting.

The Chairperson:

We will add the Attorney General, the North/South agreements, the Advocate General UK, the SOCA and the security services to the outstanding issues list. The paper will be revised and circulated to members along with the note of the issues that must be addressed in addition to those which have already been flagged up in the party political papers.

Mr McFarland:

Do we have a date for the party political papers?

The Chairperson:

We have left that matter open, but with strong encouragement that they should be submitted as soon as possible.

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