Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 14 June 2012

Venue: Probation Board Training Centre, Antrim

The meeting commenced at 2.27 p.m. in open session.

The Chairman placed on record the Committee’s appreciation to the Probation Board for hosting the meeting.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 7 June 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 7 June 2012.

3. Matters Arising

The Committee noted an up-dated Committee Forward work programme which included the attendance of the Minister of Justice at the meetings scheduled for 21 June and 28 June 2012.

4. Briefing on the Secretary Of State’s Direction under Section 1A(7) of the Prison Act (NI) 1953 as amended by Schedule 4 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010

Max Murray, Acting Director General of the NI Prison Service, and Alan Smyth, Head of Licensing and Legislation, NI Prison Service joined the meeting at 2.30 p.m.

The officials briefly outlined the background to and the need for the Secretary of State’s Direction that sets out arrangements for how NI Prison Service officials handle national security-related information post devolution of policing and justice.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including the impact on prison operations if the Direction was not renewed; how frequently information that falls within the Direction is accessed by officials; how officers deal with protected information under the Direction; how an official is considered to be an officer of the Secretary of State as opposed to an officer of the Department of Justice and the accountability arrangements that operate; in what circumstances the Secretary of State can alter Prison Rules; and the reasons why the Minister of Justice has requested that the Direction should be renewed on an annual basis rather than agreeing it on a long term basis as originally envisaged.

2.43 p.m. Mr Weir left the meeting.

2.44 p.m. Mr Elliott joined the meeting.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

Agreed: The Committee agreed to refer the Hansard of the briefing session to the Minister of Justice to enable him to consider the points raised. 

5. Results of the Consultation on Part One of the Review of the Criminal Records Regime in Northern Ireland and Proposed Way Forward

The Committee noted the results of the consultation on some of the recommendations arising from the Report of Part One of the Review of the Criminal Records Regime in Northern Ireland and the proposed way forward as outlined by the Minister of Justice.

2.53 p.m. Mr Weir left the meeting.

6. Statutory Rule 2012/217 – The Valuation Tribunal (Amendment No.2) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2012/217 which amends the Valuation Tribunal Rules (Northern Ireland) 2007 to make provision to regulate the practice and procedures for appeal proceedings before the Northern Ireland Valuation Tribunal in relation to building completion notices for the rating of empty houses.

Agreed: The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2012/217 – The Valuation Tribunal (Amendment No.2) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012 and has no objection to the Rule.

7. Statutory Rule 2012/191 – The Prison Service (Pay Review Body) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2012/191 which allows the Department of Justice to make directions to the Prison Service Pay Review Body as to the considerations to which they are to have regard and to require the Pay Review Body to send any report made by them to the Department of Justice and lay it before the Assembly.

Agreed: The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2012/191 – The Prison Service (Pay Review Body) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 and has no objection to the Rule.

8. SL1 – The Insolvency Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee considered a proposal from the Department of Justice to make a Statutory Rule to remove obligations arising from Budgeting and Crisis Loans under the Social Fund from being scheduled in a debt relief order or provable in bankruptcy proceedings to ensure that recovery of these loans is not prevented by a debt relief order or bankruptcy order.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it is content with the proposal for the Statutory Rule.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward a copy of the proposal to the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment for information given that insolvency matters falls within its remit.

9. Department of Justice Corporate Plan 2012-15 and Business Plan 2012-2013

The Committee noted the Department of Justice’s Corporate Plan 2012-15 and Business Plan 2012-2013.

10. Targeted Consultation on Items proposed for inclusion in the next Justice Bill

The Committee considered proposals by the Department of Justice to undertake a targeted consultation in relation to three issues for inclusion in the next Justice Bill which relate to specifying that a person convicted and sentenced to an indeterminate custodial sentence or an extended custodial sentence is disqualified for life from jury service, the power of inspection of property by defence representatives in criminal proceedings and to make Magistrates’ Courts Rules and County Court Rules subject to the negative resolution procedure in the Assembly.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposal to undertake a targeted consultation in relation to these issues.

11. Transfer of Residual Policing and Justice Functions

The Committee noted information provided by the Minister of Justice regarding a draft Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2012 which the Minister of State for Northern Ireland laid before Parliament on 11 June. The purpose of the Order was to transfer residual policing and justice functions that were not included in the original transfer legislation as the legislation for those residual functions was before Parliament for consideration at the same time as the transfer legislation.

3.03 p.m. Mr Weir rejoined the meeting.

12. Correspondence

i. The Committee noted a response from the Department for Justice to a request for information on the interim funding available to ensure the continuance of community safety projects between the ending of the Community Safety Partnerships and the new Policing and Community Safety Partnerships establishing their priorities and projects.

ii. The Committee considered a response from the Department for Justice to the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s request for an update on the actions currently being taken to address the issue of suicide and self-harm.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the response to the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

iii. The Committee noted a response from the Department for Justice to a request for further information regarding the home locations of the prison population at Magilligan Prison and details of the scale and timescale of work required at Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre.

iv. The Committee noted a response from the Department for Justice to its request for information on when the new PSNI Management Statement and Financial Memorandum will be available for consideration.

v. The Committee noted correspondence advising that the Minister of Justice has exercised the functions set out in the Agency Arrangements agreed with the Secretary of State under Section 29 of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 and authorised the requisition of a small section of land in the InvestNI site at Forth River Business Park, Belfast to minimise the threat of interface violence and anti-social behaviour.

vi. The Committee noted a response from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration regarding the UK Border Agency (UKBA) Short Term Holding Facility in Larne. 

vii. The Committee noted a response from the PSNI to the Committee’s request for information on what action it was taking in response to the recent BBC documentary “The Shame of the Catholic Church” and the public concerns expressed in relation to the revelations contained in the programme. 

viii. The Committee considered a response from the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland regarding his Report on the Care and Treatment of Victims and Witnesses in the Criminal Justice System and the Department of Justice action plan in response to the recommendations. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice highlighting the areas of remaining concern and seeking further comment.

ix. The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee on the Administration of Justice highlighting further information in relation to the recruitment processes and appointment of the Second Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson.

x. The Committee considered a request from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists to present its evidence on the prevalence and impact of communication difficulties amongst offenders and victims and witnesses.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists into the forward work programme.

xi. The Committee noted a copy of correspondence from a Mr Hammond to the First Minister and deputy First Minister regarding the NICS Equal Pay Settlement and PSNI civilian staff.

xii. The Committee considered an invitation from the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety to attend a Seminar by the Children’s Law Centre entitled “Mental Health Law, Policy and Practice – a Children’s Rights Perspective” on Tuesday 19 June in Parliament Buildings.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that any Member wishing to attend the event should advise the Committee Clerk who will make the necessary arrangements.

13. Chairman’s Business

i. The Chairman informed the Committee that he and the Deputy Chairman had accepted an invitation to meet the Welsh Assembly Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on Thursday 21 June as part of its Inquiry into the establishment of a separate Welsh jurisdiction.

ii. The Chairman advised the Committee of the timescale for concluding and reporting on its Inquiry into the Criminal Justice Services Available to Victims and Witnesses.

iii. The Chairman informed the Committee that he and the Deputy Chairman had attended a seminar with the Editors of local media organisations on “Bringing Open Justice to a new level: recent developments in court reporting in England and Wales” and that the briefing papers would be circulated to all Members for information.

14. Any other business

None.

15. Briefing on the Key Issues and Priorities for the Probation Board

Ronnie Spence, Chairman of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, Brian McCaughey, Director, Cheryl Lamont, Deputy Director and David Van Der Merwe, Deputy Director joined the meeting at 3.07 p.m.

The officials briefed the Committee on the work of the Probation Board and the issues and priorities it is facing. 

3.10 Mr Weir rejoined the meeting.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering a range of issues including the tension between the increasing work levels arising from the strategic direction the Minister of Justice is taking and the requirement to reduce budgets; the current in-year pressures and measures being taken to address the gap in funding; the increased understanding of the benefits of community service orders and how this impacted on the increase in workloads; the volume of work generated by the courts; how the Probation Board cooperates with other Agencies such as the PSNI and the PPS;  how the Probation Board works with Community Restorative Justice groups; the role the Probation Board can play in implementing the recommendations of the Review of Prisons; the impact of the closure of two service delivery sites and the reasons for the closures; the Service Level Agreement between the Prison Service and the Probation Service and the funding provided by the Prison Service; what mechanism is in place for all the Criminal Justice Agencies to come together to discuss the impact of Savings Delivery Plans and how the impact of cuts in one agency could have a financial or operational impact in another agency; and the governance structure organisation and how well this works.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

16. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 21 June 2012 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

3.41 p.m. the meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
21 June 2012

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