Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Tuesday, 05 May 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Jimmy Spratt (Chairperson)
Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Simon Hamilton
Mrs Carmel Hanna
Mr Alex Maskey
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Alan McFarland

The Chairperson (Mr Spratt):

We move to policing and justice matters. I declare an interest as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

Mr McCausland:

I am a member of Belfast District Policing Partnership.

The Chairperson:

Alex Maskey has left the room for the moment, but he is a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. He will rejoin the meeting shortly.

We move back to the category 2 list of issues. I will not go through the procedures because members know what they are. I will read out each issue, after which parties may state their position. We move to the original issue C:

“What should be the relationship between SOCA and the Security Services, and the Minister/Department/Assembly?”

Mr Hamilton:

I do not think that anything has changed since last week — which may be a recurring theme throughout the session. We are still awaiting protocols and memoranda of understanding. When we receive those, we can advance the issue further.

Mr McCartney:

Our position has not changed.

Mr McFarland:

Our position has not changed.

Mr Attwood:

Our position is as before.

The Chairperson:

We move to issue D:

“What needs to be done to ensure the maintenance of existing North/South policing and justice agreements, and is there a requirement for a Justice Sector of the North South Ministerial Council?”

Mr Hamilton:

We are still waiting for the response from the Secretary of State. We remain to be convinced of the merits of a justice sector of the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC).

Mr McCartney:

Our position is the same as it was last week. We argue that there should be a justice sector.

Mr McFarland:

We are awaiting the response from the Secretary of State. We do not see any reason to have a North/South justice sector.

Mr Attwood:

There is a need for a new North/South justice agreement and a sector of the NSMC for justice matters.

The Chairperson:

OK. We will park that issue.

Issue E asks:

“What is the extent of the financial provisions for a justice department which would exercise the range of policing and justice functions?”

That has been parked. The Committee will be receiving papers and information from the specialist advisers. Work is ongoing on that issue. We are certainly not at the end of that. There is no point in gauging the opinion of parties until we have fuller information. Some of the questions that we would pose to the specialist adviser on that work will be done in closed session.

Issue F asks:

“What, if any, consideration should there be of the Ashdown Report on Parading, and is there a need for further clarity of the powers to be devolved, and, if so, should they include matters relating to the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, flags and symbols and recruitment to the PSNI?”

Members are aware that a letter was forwarded to the Secretary of State on 27 April. There has been no reply to that letter, and the issue has been parked on that basis. I do not consider that there is any point in discussing that issue until we receive some substantive replies. Are members agreed?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

We move to issue G:

“In the context of Recommendation 26 of the Committee’s original report, to which Department should the Public Prosecution Service be attached?”

Mr Hamilton:

To restate our position, for the reasons previously stated, we believe that it should be attached to the Department of Finance and Personnel.

Mr A Maskey:

Our position is the same as it was previously.

Mr McFarland:

There is no change in our position either; we believe that it should be attached to DFP initially, with the possibility of looking at another Department later.

Mr Attwood:

We believe that it should go the justice Department along with all of the other justice organisations.

The Chairperson:

OK. There is no consensus on that issue, so we will park it for now.

We will move to issue H:

“In the context of Recommendation 27 of the Committee’s original report about examining the independence and accountability of the Public Prosecution Service, before, and following devolution, what consideration should be given to this matter, pre-devolution?”

The Committee Clerk:

The Committee has examined issues G and H from time to time, and they have been intermingled during those conversations. Members have previously asked for various research papers on issue H and have reflected on evidence that was presented during the Committee’s original inquiry into the devolution of policing and justice matters.

Following last week’s discussions, I reviewed all those papers and I have picked out an extract from the report of Sir Alastair Fraser’s oral presentation of 16 October 2007 on the prospective roles and relationships of the Attorney General and the Public Prosecution Service. One of the subsequent research papers — which is contained in the pack that has been provided to members for the work that they are doing now — restates that the responsibility for the funding of the PPS should lie with the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, because it was Sir Alastair Fraser’s understanding at that time that OFMDFM would be responsible for appointing the Attorney General. Those specific extracts have been selected to save members trawling through all the documents that they have, and might inform consideration of the issue at a future meeting.

Mr Hamilton:

If we are to revisit issue H at some length in future, I will reserve comment until then.

Mr A Maskey:

We are happy to leave our position on the record.

Mr McFarland:

Issue H should be properly discussed at some stage, but our visits to other jurisdictions will be useful. We will be able to see how other people do things.

Mr Attwood:

It is my understanding that we agreed to put an opportunity to look into those matters on the agenda for a future meeting. It would be better to do that before we visit other jurisdictions, because we could scope out where our conversation might go. That might help us to probe the other jurisdictions about the structures that they have established around their prosecution services. We need to have a conversation some time between now and the end of May about the issues that are outlined in the research excerpts so that we can, at least, ask some of the hard and immediate questions.

The Chairperson:

Alan has suggested that we discuss those issues after our visits to the various jurisdictions.

Mr McFarland:

I do not mind having that discussion before we embark on our visits. We just need some time to argue out all of the issues, because several of them will be key elements in the success of this process once devolution takes place. We may as well get it right.

The Chairperson:

Shall we schedule that issue for discussion at a future meeting?

Members indicated assent.

Mr Attwood:

Before the end of May?

The Chairperson:

Yes.

We will move on to issue I:

“In relation to Recommendation 30 of the Committee’s original report, who should undertake the advisory role in relation to the appointment of the Police Ombudsman?”

Mr Hamilton:

As I have previously stated, given the sensitivity of the position and the need for independence, that role should be retained by the NIO.

Mr A Maskey:

We have already indicated our preference for the advisory role to be undertaken by OFMDFM.

Mr McFarland:

As I said before, it depends on the Eames/Bradley recommendations. If the role of the Police Ombudsman to wander around in the past as a one-sided truth commission is retained, that role should stay with the Secretary of State. If that goes off with the NIO, as has been recommended by Eames/Bradley, then we do not have a problem with OFMDFM.

Mr Attwood:

Our position is as stated before.

The Chairperson:

There is no consensus on that issue. Do members agree that the issue should be parked?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

We move on to new issue J:

“What procedures and protocols will there need to be between the Minister, an Assembly Committee and any newly established department and its associated agencies?”

Some of that came up in conversation during our closed session this morning. Again, we need to have a look at the replies from the Secretary of State. Do members want to state party positions or are you happy to park the issue until we receive the relevant information?

Mr Hamilton:

Mr Chairman, there are issues that need to be resolved, and that will take some time. I do not want to go into those now, but we need to take more time on some of those specific matters at a later juncture.

The Chairperson:

I am reluctant to get into a conversation that could lead to the discussion that we had in closed session. Those points were well made in the session that has just ended.

Mr Attwood:

Who prompts or takes ownership of those issues? I said that those “rubbing” issues would arise sooner or later. We should anticipate them and work out how they might be managed — if we can. Who will be responsible for identifying and working out the Committee’s authority and rights of access to information? Who will do that work? It was clear from the director that he felt that he could not go any further.

The Chairperson:

I want you to be careful what you say. I do not want to breach a private conversation. I suggest that I might write a confidential note to the director, highlighting the points that were raised with him. I might also write to the Secretary of State in relation to some of the issues that were raised.

Mr McFarland:

Regarding the issue about rubbing points between the NIO, as there will be, and any potential Committee in relation to national security — which is what Alex was talking about — we will receive memoranda of understanding from the Secretary of State, which will tell us how the NIO proposes to deal with a Committee. That is not a matter for much discussion. The issue is how this Committee will relate to the Department of justice and the Policing Board. My guess is that it will fall to us to take the lead on that further down the line.

The Chairperson:

It is important for the Committee to see the memoranda. Shall we park the issue until we receive the memoranda?

Mr Attwood:

It might be useful to write to the Secretary of State to say that the issue of what a justice Committee has access to has been identified, and that we await the memoranda of understanding, which we presume will address that matter.

The Committee Clerk:

To answer the strategic question about who should take the lead or who has the responsibility, effectively this Committee was charged by the Assembly to give consideration to any matters relating to the devolution of policing and justice and has identified that particular issue as one of the category 2 issues for such consideration. To all intents and purposes, this Committee has all the authority that it needs to delve into that matter to the extent to which it wishes to delve into it.

The Chairperson:

We intend to do that. There is no suggestion that we are not going to do that.

The Committee Clerk:

The Committee could also explore that matter in respect of the visits to other legislatures. However, members may wish to write to the Secretary of State in the meantime.

The Chairperson:

I believe that the pertinent issues have been raised. Does the Committee agree to proceed by writing those letters?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

Hopefully, the memoranda will arrive in the not-too-distant future. That deals with issue J.

Issue K asks:

“What would be the status of the Minister’s position in, and relationship with, the Executive Committee; and would the Minister be required to bring significant, or controversial, matters to the Executive Committee?”

Mr Hamilton:

I would like the Committee to revisit issue K at a later point.

Mr A Maskey:

We are happy to come back to that.

Mr McFarland:

We believe that the relationship should be normal and akin to any other Minister’s. However, we can revisit that.

Mr Attwood:

Our position is as stated before.

The Chairperson:

The consensus is that the Committee park issue K. That concludes our discussion on policing and justice matters.

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