Terms of Reference

The Commission has established the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) to support the Clerk/Chief Executive (in his/her role as Accounting Officer), the Assembly Commission and Secretariat Management Group in their responsibilities for issues of risk, control and governance by reviewing the comprehensiveness of assurances in meeting the organisation's assurance needs and reviewing the reliability and integrity of these assurances.


The members of the SARC include:

  • One member of the Assembly Commission;
  • Two independent External members;
  • The SARC will be chaired by an independent External member.

The SARC will be provided with a secretariat function by the Directorate of Legal and Governance Services.

(See Annex 1 for current membership details)


After each SARC meeting, all Assembly Commission members, SARC members and attendees will be provided with the minutes and action points arising from the meeting.

The SARC will provide the Commission, Accounting Officer and the Secretariat Management Group with an Annual Report, timed to support the finalisation of accounts and the Governance Statement, summarising its conclusions from the work it has done during the year.

The report will summarise the SARC opinion regarding:

  • the effectiveness of governance, risk management and control;
  • the comprehensiveness of assurances in meeting the Commission's and Accounting Officer's needs;
  • the reliability and integrity of these assurances;
  • whether the assurance available is sufficient to support the Commission and Accounting Officer in their decision taking and their accountability obligations;
  • the implication of these assurances for the overall management of risk;
  • any issues the SARC considers pertinent to the Governance Statement and any long-term issues the Committee thinks the Commission and/or Accounting Officer should give attention to;
  • financial reporting for the year;
  • the quality of both Internal and External Audit and their approach to their responsibilities;
  • the SARC view of its own effectiveness, including advice on ways in which it considers it needs to be strengthened or developed; and
  • the manner in which issues involving best use of resources/value for money have been addressed.

The Chair of the SARC should attend at least one meeting of the Commission each year to report in private, without the presence of members of the Secretariat.

The Independent Chair and Member of the SARC will undergo an annual appraisal.


The SARC will advise the Commission, the Accounting Officer and the Secretariat Management Group on:

  • the strategic processes for risk, control and governance and the Governance Statement;
  • the accounting policies, the accounts and the annual report of the Assembly Secretariat, including the process for review of the accounts prior to submission for audit, levels of error identified and management's letter of representation to the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO);
  • the planned activity and results of both internal and external audit;
  • the adequacy of management response to issues identified by audit activity, including the Report to those charged with Governance from the NIAO;
  • assurances relating to the management of risk and corporate governance requirements for the Assembly Secretariat;
  • (where appropriate) proposals for tendering for either Internal or
  • External Audit services or for purchase of non-audit services from
  • contractors who provide audit services;
  • anti-fraud policies, whistle-blowing processes and arrangements for special investigations; and
  • the SARC will annually review its own effectiveness by way of a self-assessment exercise and report the results to the Commission.

Actions taken by the SARC in order to discharge its responsibilities will include:

  • the commissioning of specific audits;
  • approval of the Internal Audit Strategy and periodic audit plans;
  • the identification (where appropriate) of sources of expert advice;
  • advising the Accounting Officer on the skills, experience and competency requirements for the Head of Internal Audit (HIA) post;
  • the SARC Chair having the opportunity to comment in relation to any review of the grading of the HIA post; and
  • the SARC Chair having the opportunity to provide input into the performance appraisal of the HIA.


The SARC may:

  • co-opt additional members for a period not exceeding a year to provide specialist skills, knowledge and experience; and
  • procure specialist ad-hoc advice at the expense of the Assembly, subject to budgets agreed by the Commission.


The Chair of the SARC should have right of access to the Speaker in his role as Chair of the Commission.

The Head of Internal Audit and the representative of the Northern Ireland Audit Office will have free and confidential access to the Chair of the SARC.


The SARC will meet at least four times a year. The Chair of the SARC may convene additional meetings, as he/she deems necessary.

A minimum of two Members of the SARC will be present for the meeting to be deemed quorate. In the absence of the Chair, the Independent Member will preside.

SARC meetings will normally be attended by the Accounting Officer, the Director of Corporate Services, the Director of Legal and Governance Services, the Head of Internal Audit and a representative from the Northern Ireland Audit Office.

The SARC may ask any other officials of the Assembly to attend to assist it with its discussions on any particular matter.

The SARC may ask any or all of those who normally attend but who are not members to withdraw to facilitate open and frank discussion of particular matters.

The Commission, the Accounting Officer or Secretariat Management Group may ask the SARC to convene further meetings to discuss particular issues on which they want the Committee's advice.

At the discretion of the Chair, minor matters which require attention between scheduled meetings of SARC may be dealt with by correspondence and reported to the next scheduled meeting.


For each meeting the SARC will be provided with:

  • A report summarising any significant changes to the Assembly Secretariat's strategic risks and a copy of the Corporate Risk Register;
  • A progress report from the Head of Internal Audit summarising:
    • Work performed (and a comparison with work planned);
    • Key issues emerging from the work of Internal Audit;
    • Management response to audit recommendations;
    • Changes to the agreed Internal Audit Plan; and
    • Any resourcing issues affecting the delivery of the objectives of Internal Audit.
  • A progress report (written/verbal) from the NIAO representative summarising work done and emerging findings;
  • Management assurance reports;
  • Reports on the management of major incidents, "near misses" and lessons learned; and
  • Copies of all Internal Audit Reports.

As and when appropriate, the SARC will also be provided with:

  • Proposals for the Terms of Reference of Internal Audit / the Internal Audit Charter;
  • The Internal Audit Strategy;
  • The Head of Internal Audit's Annual Opinion and Report;
  • Quality Assurance reports on the Internal Audit function;
  • The draft accounts of the Assembly;
  • The draft Governance Statement;
  • A report on any changes to accounting policies;
  • The NIAO's Report to those charged with Governance;
  • A report on any proposals to tender for audit functions;
  • A report on co-operation between Internal and External Audit;
  • The NIAO audit strategy;
  • The Assembly Secretariat's Risk Management Strategy; and
  • Stewardship Statements.


Members of the SARC will record in the SARC Register of Interests any issues on which they might have a conflict or perceived conflict of interest. The SARC as a whole should consider how matters on which a member may have a conflict of interest will be handled.


The Directorate of Legal and Governance Services will provide secretariat services to the SARC. The secretariat will be responsible for ensuring compliance with procedures and maintenance of a Register of Interests. An agenda and papers will be circulated one week in advance of each meeting. Draft minutes and a summary of action points will be sent to the Chairperson within five working days of the meeting. The formal minutes will be posted on the Assembly website within three working days of their approval. Approved action points will be issued to relevant staff within one working day of receipt.

The secretariat will prepare an induction pack for new members.


The SARC Terms of Reference will be reviewed annually.

Annex 1



Independent Chairperson: Colm McKenna
[Appointed: 1 December 2011; Appointment due to end: 30 November 2016]

Independent member: Bernard Mitchell
[Appointed: 17 September 2012; Appointment due to end: 16 September 2017]

Assembly Commission member: Jim Wells MLA [from June 2016]

Secretary: David Johnston, Assembly Secretariat


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