Session: 2011/2012

Date: 22 November 2011

ISBN: 978-0-339-60411-7

Mandate Number: NIA 18/11-15

Committee: Assembly and Executive Review

nia_18_11_15.pdf (6.87 mb)

Executive Summary

1. The Department of Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2010 provided for the establishment of the Department of Justice and for the appointment of a Northern Ireland Minister to be in charge of that Department. The 2010 Act provides at section 2(1) the terms of the appointment, setting out the 'Initial Ministerial provision'.

2. Schedule 1, Part 3, paragraph 8 of the Northern Ireland Act 2009 makes provision for the dissolution of the Department of Justice – which dissolves on 1 May 2012 unless before that date, either-

a. The Assembly resolves, through cross community support, that the Department is to continue operating from 1 May 2012, or

b. A 'second Act' of the Assembly provides that the Department is to continue operating from 1 May 2012.

This is commonly referred to as the 'Sunset Clause'.

3. On 10 October 2011, the Northern Ireland Assembly approved a Motion under Standing Order 59(4) b to refer to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee the matter of the Review of the Initial Ministerial provision of the Department of Justice and to make recommendations relating to the provision that should exist from 1 May 2012. The Committee subsequently agreed its Terms of Reference for this Review on this basis, with a view to complete the Review and report to the Assembly w/c 21 November 2011.

4. The timescale for the Review provided for the possibility that a 'second Act' will be required by 1 May 2012. The Committee agreed that its stakeholders for this Review would be the Assembly's Political Parties and independent MLA, OFMdFM and the Department of Justice, including their respective Assembly Committees. All were issued a detailed Stakeholder Options Paper which sets out possible options that flow from the legislation that could be developed but may not necessarily be a practical or viable way forward. Questions sought views from stakeholders on the suitability and adequacy of the Initial Ministerial provision and in relation to the arrangements from 1 May 2012.

5. Stakeholders were asked to indicate their preferred option(s), reasons for these preference(s) and unacceptable options. Four stakeholder responses provided comments on the Initial Ministerial provision and seven stakeholders provided a substantive response on the arrangements from 1 May 2012.

6. On the latter, the Alliance Party favour Option A, that is the Assembly resolves that the Department of Justice is to continue operating from May 2012, while the DUP described Option A as 'worthy of further consideration'. Option B3, that is, a second Act under the Northern Ireland Act 2009 (before 1 May 2012), which repeals the 'Initial Ministerial Provision', with all Northern Ireland Ministers losing their offices (including the Minister for Justice) and these offices being filled by the D'Hondt process, was favored by the Green Party, the SDLP and Sinn Féin – with the DUP stating that this option was 'worthy of further consideration …subject to a reduction of the number and reorganisation of departments'. No stakeholder selected Option C - to resolve that the Department is to continue operating from 1 May 2012 with a subsequent Act, or Option D – an Act dissolving the Department of Justice pre 1 May 2012, or Option E – 'do nothing'.

7. A number of stakeholder responses (DUP, Green Party, SDLP and UUP) raised the issue that the Review of arrangements in relation to the Department of Justice provides an opportunity to simultaneously review and reduce the number of Government departments in Northern Ireland.

8. Following Committee discussion, a proposal was made, on the basis that there was no broad consensus on any of the options, that the Committee draft a Report that outlines all the different opinions, summarises the consultation outcome in terms of who endorsed which options and why, and any other comments.

9. The Committee agreed to this proposal, with no other proposals raised prior to this agreement.

Download the full report here.

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