Legal Aid and Coroners' Courts Bill - Committee Stage

The Legal Aid and Coroners’ Courts Bill was formally introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 31 March 2014 and passed its Second Stage on 8 April 2014. The Bill has been referred to the Committee for Justice which has responsibility for the Committee Stage of the Bill.

The main purpose of the Legal Aid and Coroners’ Courts Bill is to dissolve the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission and transfer its functions and staff to an executive agency which is to be established within the Department of Justice. The Bill will also implement a number of safeguards to protect the independence of individual decisions on the grant of civil legal aid including the appointment of an independent appeals panel.

The Bill will also make the Lord Chief Justice the President of the Coroners’ Courts, and require him to appoint a Presiding Coroner, thus formalizing his

Responsibilities in relation to the coroners and the coroners’ courts in line with existing arrangements for the other judiciary and courts in Northern Ireland.

The Committee has also received a proposal from the Attorney General for Northern Ireland for a potential amendment to the Bill. The Attorney General has the power under section 14(1) of the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 to direct an inquest where he considers it ‘advisable’ to do so but has no powers to obtain papers or information that may be relevant to the exercise of that power. He has experienced some difficulty in recent years in securing access to documents that he has needed and the proposed amendment to the 1959 Act would confer a power on the Attorney General to obtain papers and provide a clear statutory basis for disclosure. He has indicated that the principle focus of his concern is deaths that occur in hospital or where there is otherwise a suggestion that medical error may have occurred.

The Committee issued a 'Call for Evidence' to hear views from all interested parties in order to assist it with the scrutiny of the Bill. The deadline for submissions passed on 25 April 2014. You can view the written submissions that were received by the Committee here.

For further informaion on the Committee Stage of the Bill you can contact the Committee by e-mail at committee.justice@niassembly.gov.uk

or by post to:

The Committee Clerk, Room 242, Parliament Buildings, Ballymiscaw, Stormont, Belfast BT4 3XX.

or by telephone on 028 9052 1629 or 028 9052 1401.

Further information:

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