Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 07 March 2013
Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings
The meeting commenced at 2.07 p.m. in public session.
The Deputy Chairman took the Chair.
Apologies are detailed above.
2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 28 February 2013
The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 28 February 2013.
3. Matters Arising
There were no matters arising.
4. New Victims and Witnesses draft 5 year Strategy - Consultation Responses, Revised Strategy and Action Plan
Maura Campbell, Deputy Director, Veronica Holland and Maurice Campbell, Criminal Justice Development Division, Department of Justice joined the meeting at 2.09 p.m.
The officials outlined the results of the consultation on the draft 5 year strategy for victims and witnesses of crime, the revisions made to the draft strategy and the proposed action plan.
A question and answer session followed covering issues including: the reasons for the development of separate charters for victims and witnesses with different introduction dates; what consideration was given to addressing the needs of victims who are also likely to be witnesses in the development of the charters; whether any consideration had been given to harmonising/amalgamating the charters at a future date; the reasons for the different timescales quoted in the draft strategy and the action plan to evaluate the facilities for victims and witnesses in all courthouses to identify specific improvements; who would have responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the strategy in a timely manner; the need for agencies involved to change the 'silo' culture that exists and improve information sharing and communication; the ways in which delays for victims and witnesses will be addressed; and the role and remit of the Victim and Witness Care Unit.
The briefing was recorded by Hansard.
The Chairman thanked the officials and they left meeting.
The meeting was suspended at 2.21 p.m.
The meeting resumed at 2.28 p.m.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to give further consideration to whether the draft action plan would fully implement the recommendations agreed by the Committee in its Inquiry Report into Victims and Witnesses of Crime at its meeting on 21 March 2013.
5. Faster, Fairer Justice Bill: Equality and Live Links Consultations and Update on Bill Progress
The Committee considered two draft consultation documents which the Department of Justice proposed to issue in connection with the Faster Fairer Justice Bill: the Equality Consultation for a Proposed Justice Bill (NI) 2013 which deals with a composite equality assessment of the Bill and will seek views on both the specific proposals contained in the Bill and on an aggregated, overarching equality assessment of the Bill; and, the Consultation on proposals for the use of live links in weekend courts which deals with an additional proposal on live links and weekend bail hearings which would provide for a centralised system whereby a single judge could perform the function for Northern Ireland as a whole at weekends.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for both consultations to take place.
6. Options to take forward Amendments to Court Rule Making Procedures
The Committee considered options for making proposed changes to the Court Rule Making Procedures which would ensure that all Rules are subject to the same level of Assembly scrutiny.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to consider this matter further at its meeting on 21 March 2013.
7. Review of the Statutory Exceptional Grant Funding Scheme: Draft consultation document
The Committee considered a proposal by the Department of Justice to undertake a targeted consultation exercise as part of its Review of the Statutory Exceptional Grant Funding Scheme which is designed to provide legal aid funding for representation to persons seeking to participate in certain legal proceedings which fall outside the scope of ordinary legal aid, such as inquests into the death of relatives.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation to take place and that an oral briefing on the results of the consultation should be scheduled into the Forward Work Programme.
8. Opt-in to authorise amendment of the Annexes to the EU's approval of the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of
Child Support and other Forms of Family Maintenance
The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice indicating that the Minister of Justice supported the Lord Chancellor's recommendation that the United Kingdom opts in to the European Union's decision to amend the annexes to the EU's approval of the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and other Forms of Family Maintenance given it has no implications for Northern Ireland.
i The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee's request for further information on the costs of civil legal aid broken down by case type and claims made by barristers/solicitors in civil legal aid cases which were subsequently amended by the Taxing Master.
ii The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Department of Finance and Personnel had given approval to extend the NI Prison Service Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme to allow all those staff who had applied to leave the Service and are currently awaiting a decision on their applications the opportunity to do so.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule an update on the NI Prison Service Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme as part of the next oral briefing on the Prison Reform Programme.
iii The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety's request for information on what statistics are held in relation to the Tobacco Products Duty Act 1979 and in particular the use of powers under Section 8H(4).
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
iv The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee's request for clarification of the response rate that would be required to consultations in general and the discussion paper on sharing information about family proceedings concerning children in particular, before the Department would consider making policy/legislative changes.
v The Committee noted the National Statistics publication Perceptions of Crime: Findings from the 2011/12 Northern Ireland Crime Survey which was published on 28 February 2013.
vi The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Minister of Justice intended to make a statement to the Assembly in relation to the NI Prison Service Estate Strategy on Tuesday 19 March 2013.
vii The Committee noted a copy of a letter sent from the Private Secretary to the Minister of Justice to the Private Secretary to the Minister for Education regarding employer and employee contributions and benefits for the PSNI Pension Schemes.
viii The Committee noted the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service Investment Account – Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2012.
ix The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister of Justice advising of a review by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of the non-jury trial provisions in the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007.
x The Committee noted a summary of progress on the delivery of Department of Justice capital projects detailed in the ISNI Delivery Tracking System.
xi The Committee noted correspondence from the Lord Chief Justice's Office regarding bail applications
10. Chairman's Business
i The Deputy Chairman informed Members that the Director of the Public Prosecution Service had extended an invitation to the Committee to visit the Belfast Chambers of the Public Prosecution Service for a presentation on its work and a tour of the new Victim and Witness Care Unit.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that arrangements should be made for a visit to take place on a Thursday morning.
ii The Deputy Chairman advised Members that the Chairman had received correspondence from a Mr and Mrs Shaw regarding allegations of corruption and cover up in the PSNI, Courts and the legal profession.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Department of Justice for a response on the issues raised.
11. Any other business
The meeting was suspended at 2.42 p.m.
The meeting resumed at 2.47 p.m.
12. Governance arrangements for and progress on the delivery of the Desertcreat Training College Capital Project
Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie, Chair of the Desertcreat Programme Board, Louise Warde Hunter, Deputy Director, Policing Policy Strategy Division, Department of Justice and Brendan Smyth, Health Estates, Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety joined the meeting at 2.47 p.m.
The officials outlined the governance arrangements for and progress on the delivery of the Desertcreat Training College Capital Project.
Mr Alex Easton declared an interest as Assembly Private Secretary to the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
3.05 p.m. Mr Jim Wells joined the meeting.
3.23 p.m. Mr Tom Elliott joined the meeting.
3.30 p.m. Mr Paul Givan joined the meeting and took the Chair.
3.40 p.m. Mr Jim Wells left the meeting.
3.59 p.m. Mr Stewart Dickson left the meeting.
A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: who has lead responsibility for the project; who is the procuring authority for the project; the level and frequency of engagement between the Department of Justice and the Policing Board in relation to the project; the costs associated with one college as opposed to three colleges; the benefits of a collaborative co-location approach to the project; the extent of the remedial action that has been taken to address the issues with the design team; the reasons why the design team is still in place; whether independent checks will be carried out throughout the project; how the Project Board has reassured itself that the process is now robust; the increase in the estimated cost; who detected the flaws in the pre-tender estimate and when; the reasons why the major flaws in the pre-tender estimate were not identified at an earlier stage; how much had been paid in consultancy fees to the design team and to the cost consultants; whether there is any clawback on the grounds of gross incompetence; the options being considered to close the affordability gap; from which budgets any additional funding will come; how costs will be reduced without reducing the functionality/ethos of the project; by how much costs are likely to be reduced; whether there is scope to use alternatives to Kilkenny Limestone and Donegal Quartz; whether a new Business Case will be required as a result of the new cost estimate; the nature of the involvement of the Director of the PSNI Human Resources Department in the project; and, the anticipated revised timescale for the project.
The briefing was recorded by Hansard.
The Chairman thanked the officials and they left meeting.
13. Date and time of next meeting
The next meeting will take place on Thursday 21 March 2013 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.
The meeting was adjourned at 4.05 p.m.