Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 20 June 2013
Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings
The meeting commenced at 2.03p.m. in public session.
Apologies are listed above.
2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 13 June 2013
The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 13 June 2013.
3. Matters Arising
i. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel in relation to the Financial Provisions Bill and how the Courts Fund Office manages monies held under the Court Fund Rules.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice to request information on how the Courts Fund Office manages monies held under the Court Fund Rules and what consideration had been given to the use of alternative short-term and medium-term investment options.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to provide a copy of the information to the Committee for Finance and Personnel upon receipt.
ii. The Committee noted an update on the Forward Work Programme for the period to and including 4 July 2013.
2.07 p.m. Mr Stewart Dickson joined the meeting.
iii. The Committee noted a summary of the issues raised during the oral evidence session with the Independent Members of the Prison Review Group which, as agreed at the meeting on 13 June 2013, would be referred to the Department of Justice for a response.
iv. The Committee noted a list of the key stakeholders who had responded to its request for views on the likely overall impact of proposed changes to criminal and civil legal aid and the responses that were due in shortly.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that a summary of the responses received to date should be provided for the meeting on 27 June when legal aid matters would be considered.
4. Desertcreat Training College Capital Project – Update on Progress
Deputy Chief Constable, Judith Gillespie, Chair of the Desertcreat Programme Board, Ms Louise Warde Hunter, Deputy Director, Policing Policy and Strategy Division, Department of Justice, and Dr Bernie Stuart, Director of Investment Directorate, Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety joined the meeting at 2.09 p.m.
Deputy Chief Constable, Judith Gillespie, updated the Committee on 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.
2.44 p.m. Mr Alban Maginness joined the meeting.
A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: the reasons why the £30 million shortfall was not identified until December 2012 and whether the costs associated with the project were challenged prior to this date; who detected the flaws in the pre-tender estimate; at what stage the design team realised there were errors in the costings; the amount of money already paid to the design team and the amount outstanding; the regularity of payments to the design team; whether there is any clawback on the grounds of gross incompetence; the progress that has been made in assessing all the opportunities for redress; whether the same design team is in place; whether Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) could have provided the costings at the outset; the level of oversight by the CPD; whether Value For Money was a consideration at the outset; in what areas the cost reductions have been identified and what impact this will have on the functionality/ethos of the project; why the project included the items in the first instance if they can now be removed; who is responsible for assessing the impact of the cuts; whether the scale of Bill of Reductions indicates that there was room for negotiation on costs; the positive changes resulting from the Bill of Reductions; from which budgets any additional funding to meet the shortfall will come; whether independent checks will be carried out throughout the project; whether checks on the financial viability of the preferred bidder will be carried out in advance of and throughout the project; whether any issues have been raised in relation to the bidders for the tender; the justification for the cost of the architects; whether this project is likely to be considered by the Public Accounts Committee in the future; the costs associated with the addendum Business Case; and how the failures of the design team have reflected on the Desertcreat Programme Board.
3.39 p.m. Mr Alban Maginness left the meeting.
The briefing was recorded by Hansard.
The officials agreed to provide the Committee with additional information on a range of issues.
The Chairman thanked the officials and they left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that a summary of the key issues raised during the oral evidence session should be prepared for the meeting on 27 June 2013 to enable a response from the Department of justice on the issues raised to be requested.
5. Future Status of the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission - Consultation Responses and Proposed Change of Status
David Lavery, Director of Access to Justice, Mark McGuckin, Director of Justice Delivery, and Carol Graham, Reform Programme, Department of Justice joined the meeting at 3.46 p.m.
The officials outlined the results of the consultation on the proposed change of status of the NI Legal Services Commission to an Executive Agency of the Department of Justice and the safeguards to protect individual decisions on the granting of legal aid.
3.49 p.m. Mr Alban Maginness joined the meeting.
3.55 p.m. Mr Paul Givan left the meeting.
3.55 p.m. Mr Raymond McCartney took the Chair.
4.10 p.m. Mr Paul Givan joined the meeting and took the Chair.
4.11 p.m. Mr Jim Wells left the meeting.
A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: the level of savings likely to be achieved as a result of the change of status of the NI Legal Services Commission to an Executive Agency of the Department of Justice; what criteria will be used to assess a case on its merits; whether an individual or a panel will make an appeal decision; the criteria that will be used to assess whether exceptional circumstances exist for oral representations to be made in appeals; examples of what cases would be considered novel or contentious; the annual running costs of the Commission; the previous role of the Law Society in relation to the payment of legal aid; whether the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission (NILSC) accounts continue to be qualified and whether this issue will be satisfactorily addressed before the change of status is made; and whether the Executive once formed will produce its own accounts.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposal that the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission should become an Executive Agency within the Department of Justice and that the Chief Executive should become a statutory appointment with the changes to be taken forward in a new Legal Services Bill.
6. Faster, Fairer Justice Bill - Consultation Responses on Weekend bail hearings/live links and Proposed Way Forward
The Committee considered the responses to the Department of Justice consultation on the use of live links in weekend courts and the proposed way forward.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposals for a court based live link system in respect of weekend courts and courts held on public holidays with the changes to be taken forward in the Faster, Fairer Justice Bill.
7. SL1: Membership of the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission - Consultation Responses and Proposed Statutory Rule
The Committee considered a proposal by the Department of Justice to make a Statutory Rule to reduce the minimum and maximum number of Board Members of the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission and the responses to the targeted consultation undertaken on the matter.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed Statutory Rule.
8. Future Legislative Programme - Department of Justice
The Committee noted the legislative programme for Department of Justice for the remainder of the current Assembly Mandate which included plans for a Legal Services Bill, a Faster, Fairer Justice Bill and a Fines Enforcement Bill.
9. Prison Reform Programme – NI Prison Service Stakeholder Event on 27 June 2013
The Committee considered an invite to a stakeholder event on prison reform on 27 June 2013, entitled 'Working in Partnership to Reform our Prisons' and a summary report outlining the main findings from a recent series of workshops organised by the Prison Reform Change Management team with partner organisations from the statutory, voluntary and community sectors on a range of key issues.
Agreed: Members agreed to advise the Clerk if they wished to attend the event.
10. Office of the NI Judicial Appointments Ombudsman – Changes to the Policy Proposals
The Committee considered two proposed policy changes to the original proposals from the Department of Justice in relation to the Office of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman. The first change would allow the Annual Report of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman to be provided directly to the Assembly and the second would remove the Department of Justice's role in relation to discretionary disqualifications.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the two proposed policy changes in relation to the Office of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman.
11. Explanatory Memorandum on the European Commission proposal on promoting the free movement of citizens and businesses
The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister on a European Commission proposal on promoting the free movement of citizens and businesses by simplifying the acceptance of certain public documents in the European Union and advice that had been provided by the Department of Justice in relation to the matter.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to advise the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister that the Department of Justice had indicated that the issue had no direct impact on AccessNI or the Department.
12. Chairman's Business
The Chairman advised Members that he had accepted an invitation to meet with the Vice Chairman, Chief Executive and Members of the Security Industry Authority on 26 June 2013 when they are in Northern Ireland. The Deputy Chairman, who had also been invited, would not be available to attend.
i. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee's request for information on the approach adopted by the Compensation Agency if a criminal injury case was presented that a motor vehicle had been used as a weapon to injure a police officer.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward a copy of the response to the Northern Ireland Policing Board and request that any comments it might have on the response are included in the update it is due to provide to the Committee on the matter.
The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee's request for information on the timescale for the appointment of the Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) and the reasons why they were not in place to coincide with the Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) at Antrim Area Hospital becoming operational.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Head of the SARC to request information on the need for and the benefits of having Independent Sexual Violence Advisors in place and the likely impact on the provision of services if they are not in place in the foreseeable future.
ii. The Committee noted a copy of a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety on the Department's Suicide Prevention Strategies.
iii. The Committee noted correspondence received by Mr Patsy McGlone from a Mr and Mrs Shaw in relation to civil proceedings over a disputed right of way and outlining allegations of a cover up in relation to their court proceedings regarding an application for contempt of court and breach of Court Order/injunction and the action that had been taken in response to similar previous correspondence.
iv. The Committee noted correspondence from a Mr George regarding the pay arrangements for employees of the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission, an issue which the Committee had raised with the Department of Justice and on which a response was due in the near future.
v. The Committee noted correspondence from a Mr Lemon regarding the pay arrangements for employees of the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission.
vi. The Committee noted correspondence from a Ms Higgins regarding the pay arrangements for employees of the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission.
vii. The Committee noted the Law Centre (NI) policy briefing 'Improving the system for responding to separated children in Northern Ireland' which reflects on activities and developments relating to separated children subject to immigration control in Northern Ireland.
14. Any Other Business
15. Date and time of next meeting
The Chairman reminded Members that an informal meeting with Judge Smyth to discuss the availability of drugs rehabilitation programmes would take place on Thursday 27 June at 12.45 p.m. in Room 21, Parliament Buildings prior to the Committee meeting.
The next Committee meeting will take place on Thursday 27 June 2013 at 2.00 pm in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.
The meeting was adjourned at 4.13 p.m.