Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 05 July 2012

Venue: Room 30 Parliament Buildings

The meeting commenced at 2.05p.m. in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 28 June 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 28 June 2012.

3. Matters Arising

i The Committee considered proposals for the handling of the Committee Stage of the Criminal Justice Bill, including a Bill timetable, a draft media sign-posting notice, a draft letter seeking written evidence on the Bill and a list of key stakeholders.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the consultation period for the Bill should last a period of 7 to 8 weeks.
Agreed: The Committee noted the Bill timetable and agreed the draft media sign-posting notice, a draft letter seeking written evidence on the Bill and the list of key stakeholders.
ii The Chairman advised the Committee that a number of letters had been received from the Department of Justice since the Committee meeting pack was issued. The Chairman suggested that Members take the opportunity to read the letters in advance of the correspondence agenda item.

4. Discussion on the scope/nature of Judicial Independence and consideration of Draft Guidance by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland for Forensic Science Northern Ireland

The Attorney General for Northern Ireland John Larkin QC, and Mairead Bunting, Senior Principal Legal Officer joined the meeting at 2.10 p.m.

The Attorney General referred to his letter of 23 April 2012 regarding his contempt litigation against the former Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Mr Peter Hain MP, and issues around the criticism of judges or of judicial decisions.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: whether any members of the judiciary encouraged him to take action against Peter Hain; whether suggestions were made by the judiciary as to the relevant legislation under which action could be taken; the extent to which the public's view of, or confidence in, the judiciary was affected by Peter Hain's comments and the evidence to support this; the reputational risk associated with this type of action; whether any weight was given to the potential cost to the public purse in deciding whether to take action; and, the actual cost of the action taken.

The Attorney General also outlined his draft guidance for Forensic Science Northern Ireland on the exercise of its functions in a manner consistent with international human rights standards.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: the type of Assembly control that the guidance would be subject to; the level of consultation that had been carried out on the draft guidance; the timeframe for the implementation of the guidance; and, the guidance that will be developed for other criminal justice organisations.

3.07 p.m. Peter Weir left the meeting.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the Attorney General and the official for their attendance.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek further information from the Attorney General on the consultation that had been carried out on the draft guidance and respond formally on the matter in September.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek the views of Forensic Science Northern Ireland on the draft guidance.

5. Consultation responses on Proposals to Encourage Earlier Guilty Pleas and Reform of Committal Proceedings

Maura Campbell, Deputy Director, Criminal Justice Development Division, and Chris Matthews and Graham Walker, Criminal Justice Development Division joined the meeting at 3.12 p.m.

The officials briefly outlined the responses received to the consultations on Proposals to Encourage Earlier Guilty Pleas and Reform of Committal Proceedings and the proposed way forward.

3.30 p.m. Peter Weir joined the meeting.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: the savings that could be made if committal proceedings were to be abolished; the safeguards that are in place for defendants outside of the committal process; the stage at which defence lawyers should be obliged to advise clients on discounts; the extent to which plea bargaining takes place; the effect the reform of Legal Aid and the possible introduction of flat-rate fees might have on the level of earlier guilty pleas; the range of proposals that will be taken forward as part of the Faster, Fairer Justice Bill; the procedural changes that will be required if proposals are implemented; and, the need to keep witnesses and victims informed in relation to early guilty pleas.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked Mr Matthews and Mr Walker for the briefing and they left the meeting.

3.39 p.m. Peter Weir left the meeting.
3.55 p.m. Raymond McCartney left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the responses to the consultations on Proposals to Encourage Earlier Guilty Pleas and Reform of Committal Proceedings and to refer a copy of the Hansard of the session to officials to take account of the issues raised by the Committee.

6. Faster, Fairer Justice Bill: Policy Areas

Gareth Johnston, Head of Criminal Justice Policy and Legislation Division, Angela Bell, Jurisdictional Redesign Division, and Tom Haire, Bill Manager, Criminal Justice Policy and Legislation Division joined Maura Campbell, Head of Criminal Justice Development Division at the table at 3.55 p.m.

The officials briefly outlined briefly outline the proposals for the Faster, Fairer Justice Bill.

3.57 p.m. Raymond McCartney joined the meeting.
3.58 p.m. Peter Weir joined the meeting.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: the timeframe for the introduction of the Faster, Fairer Justice Bill; possible changes to committal proceedings; the Code of Practice for victims of crime and the need to place it on a statutory footing; the introduction and benefits of Prosecutorial Fines; procedural reform including proposals to allow the Public Prosecution Service to issue summonses; and, the proposals that will be included as a result of the Committee's Report on the Criminal Justice Services available to Victims and Witnesses of Crime.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee noted the proposals for the Faster, Fairer Justice Bill and agreed to forward a copy of the Hansard of the session to the Minister to take account of the issues raised by the Committee.

7. Automatic Enrolment: Proposed Amendments to Police Pension Regulations

The Committee considered information from the Department of Justice advising the Committee that, as a consequence of the introduction of automatic enrolment, it intends to make amendments to the Police Pension Regulations 2009 to include PSNI Part-Time Reserve Officers in the New Police Pension Scheme and to permit members of the Scheme to opt in and out of the Scheme on more than one occasion.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the proposed amendments to the Police Pension Regulations 2009 and to consider the matter again when the draft regulations are referred to the Committee in the autumn.

8. Results of the consultation on Proposals to Close Five Hearing Centres

The Committee considered the results of the Department of Justice public consultation on proposals to close 5 Hearing Centres at Bangor, Larne, Limavady, Magherafelt and Strabane Courthouses.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the results of the consultation on the proposals to close the five Hearing Centres and to consider the matter again when the final proposals are referred to the Committee in the autumn.

9. Results of the consultation on Victim Impact Statements

The Committee considered the results of the Department of Justice public consultation on the provision of Victim Impact Statements and Victim Impact Reports.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the results of the consultation on Victim Impact Statements and Victim Impact Reports and to schedule a briefing on the proposals for a new Victim Impact Scheme in due course.

10. Draft Departmental Guidance for the PSNI on the Temporary Closure of Licensed Premises and Registered Clubs

The Committee considered Department of Justice draft guidance for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on the usage of new closure powers given to it under the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

The legislation gives power to the PSNI to close licensed premises and registered clubs in the face of disorder by way of temporary closure orders.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek clarification from the Department on whether, under the new legislation, an opportunity would still exist for negotiation between the licensed premises or registered club holder and the PSNI on the date of closure.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to refer the draft guidance to the Committee for Social Development for its views/comments.

11. Responses to the consultation on the proposed Early Removal Scheme for Foreign National Prisoners

The Committee considered the results of the Department of Justice consultation on proposals for the introduction of an Early Removal Scheme for Foreign National Prisoners and the action that the Department intends to take to address the issues raised.

Agreed: The Committee noted the results of the Department of Justice consultation on proposals for the introduction of an Early Removal Scheme for Foreign National Prisoners and agreed that it was content for the Minister of Justice to legislate for the Scheme in the Faster, Fairer Justice Bill.

4.21p.m. Tom Elliott left the meeting.

12. Correspondence

i The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing the final version of the PSNI Management Statement and Financial Memorandum.
ii The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing a copy of draft guidance on Working Arrangements for the Welfare and Protection of Adult Victims of Human Trafficking.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to convey its view to the Minister of Justice that it wishes to see the strongest possible legislation introduced in relation to human trafficking and will consider the matter further in the course of its scrutiny of the Criminal Justice Bill.

iii The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice in response to a request from the Committee for information regarding EU funding for the 2014-2020 period.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request details from the Department on the bids it is supporting from within the justice family.

iv The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the analysis of sick absence in NI Departments 2010/11 and clarifiying the Department's position.

v The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice providing information requested by the Committee on the education arrangements for those young people discharged from Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre.

vi The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the publication of the Research and Statistical Bulletin 3/2012 'The Night-Time Economy: Findings from the 2009/10 and 2010/11 Northern Ireland Crime Surveys'.

vii The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice providing a response to issues raised by the Belfast Solicitors' Association.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the response to the Belfast Solicitors' Association.

viii The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the publication of the Judicial Statistics 2011 report on criminal, civil and family business in the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.

ix The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel providing a research paper 'The Estimates 2012-13: Identification of Potential Issues for Scrutiny'.

x The Committee noted correspondence from Voices of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) regarding its first Computer Assisted Survey Interviewing (CASI) on the views and experiences of children living in care in Northern Ireland

Agreed: The Committee agreed that an informal meeting should be arranged with VOYPIC in the autumn.

xi The Committee noted correspondence from a Mr Hammond regarding PSNI Equal Pay.

xii The Committee considered correspondence from the UK Border Agency in response to a request from the Committee for information on the provision of independent inspections of the short-term holding facility at Larne House.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to send a copy of the correspondence to the Chairman of the Policing Board Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee.

xiii The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice providing a response to the Committee's request for further information on the retention of human tissue samples.

xiv The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing an update on information and data security including data breaches.

xv The Committee noted correspondence from the Legal Services Commission providing information requested on the reductions applied to Very High Cost Cases by the Taxing Master.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward a copy of the correspondence to the Public Accounts Committee for information.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward a copy of the correspondence to the Bar Council and the Law Society to seek their views, as representative bodies, on the information provided.

xvi The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing an up-date on increasing the time limit for appeal of unduly lenient sentences.

xvii The Committee noted the Serious Organised Crime Agency Annual Report and Accounts 2011/12

xviii The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the development of International Standards for Forensic Science.

xix The Committee noted further correspondence from a Mr Hammond regarding PSNI Equal Pay.

15. Chairman's Business

Agreed: The Committee agreed to delegate authority to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman to submit, during periods of recess, views on the releasing or withholding of the information in any non-routine/contentious Freedom of Information requests received

16. Any other business

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request a briefing by the UK Border Agency on its processes and procedures.

17. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 13 September 2012 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings

4.36 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA

Chairman, Committee for Justice
13 September 2012

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