Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 21 June 2012

Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

The meeting commenced at 2.01 p.m. in closed session.

1.  Inquiry into the Criminal Justice Services available to Victims and Witnesses of Crime – Consideration of draft Inquiry report

The Committee considered a draft report on the Committee’s Inquiry into the Criminal Justice Services available to Victims and Witnesses of Crime. A minor amendment was proposed to Recommendation 9, paragraph 297, and a consequential amendment to the Summary of Recommendations.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed that the amendment to Recommendation 9, paragraph  297, and the consequential amendment should be made.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to consider and approve the final report at the end of the meeting.

2.27p.m. The meeting moved into open session.

2.    Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

3.    Draft minutes of the meeting held on 14 June 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 14 June 2012.

4.    Matters Arising

The Committee noted changes to the Forward Work Programme, including a briefing on the principles of the Criminal Justice Bill scheduled for the Committee meeting on the 28 June 2012, assuming the Bill is introduced on 25 June 2012, and the briefing on proposals to reform committal proceedings and encourage earlier guilty pleas, moved to the meeting on 5 July 2012.

5.    Minister of Justice’s formal response to the Review of Access to Justice recommendations

The Minister of Justice, David Lavery, Director, Access to Justice Directorate, Robert Crawford, Deputy Director, Access to Justice Directorate and Mark McGuicken, Public Legal Services Division joined the meeting at 2.29 p.m.

The Minister outlined his formal response to the Review of Access to Justice recommendations and the Department’s Action Plan for delivery of the reform programme.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: the extent of buy-in to the Review and its recommendations from solicitors and barristers; the merits of setting a standard fee system to encourage guilty pleas; mechanisms to measure success of the reform programme, and in particular, improving access to justice; benchmarking; the level of remuneration for barristers and solicitors and the scope to reduce the legal aid budget further; the use of alternative dispute resolution programmes, the potential for pilot schemes and the methods by which they can be assessed and quality assured; and, in what circumstances it may be appropriate or necessary to implement a public defenders system.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the Minister and officials for their attendance.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to request details of the maximum hourly rate for civil legal aid work.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to request details of which projects and work streams associated with the reform programme will require primary or subordinate legislation, and/or Executive approval, before changes can be implemented.

6.    Update briefing on Progress to Reduce Avoidable Delay in the Criminal Justice System

Nick Perry, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Justice, Barra McGrory, Director of Public Prosecutions, and George Hamilton, Assistant Chief Constable, PSNI joined David Lavery at the meeting at 3.29 p.m.

The officials briefly outlined the current position on reducing avoidable delay in the Criminal Justice System and the proposal to introduce statutory time limits in the youth courts.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: the proposals for a pilot scheme to introduce Statutory Time Limits in Youth Courts; the limitations of the legislation that is already on the statute book to facilitate the introduction of Statutory Time Limits; the benefits of early interventions, particularly for young people; discounts for early guilty pleas; proposed reform of the committals process; the introduction of the PSNI/PPS Gatekeepers scheme; lessons learnt on a recent study visit to Hull, and in particular, the turn-around time for forensic evidence; the role of restorative justice schemes; and, the Department of Justice’s role in co-ordinating and improving joined-up working among agencies.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

4.25 p.m. Peter Weir left the meeting.

4.48 p.m. Tom Elliott left the meeting.

Agreed:    The Committee agreed to schedule a departmental briefing on the proposals to introduce Statutory Time Limits in the Youth Courts in September 2012.

Agreed:    The Committee agreed to seek the views of the Public Prosecution Service, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Lord Chief Justice on the proposals for introducing Statutory Time Limits.

Agreed:    The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing by the Assembly Researcher on the briefing paper that had been prepared on Statutory Time Limits.

7.    Revised Consultation Paper on proposals to vary firearms licensing fees and other miscellaneous amendments to the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004

The Committee considered a revised consultation paper on proposals to vary firearms licensing fees and other miscellaneous amendments to the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004. The revisions addressed issues raised by the Committee when it was briefed on the draft document on 31 May 2012.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed that it was content with the revised consultation document and for the consultation to take place.

8.    Results of the consultation on legislative amendments to comply with an EU Directive on Human Trafficking

The Committee considered the results of the consultation on legislative amendments required for Northern Ireland to comply with an EU Directive on Human Trafficking.

The Committee noted that relevant clauses had been drafted for insertion in the Criminal Justice Bill in relation to two new offences, and that the Department of Justice intended to refer the other issues raised during the consultation to the Organised Crime Task Force Immigration and Human Trafficking Sub-Group.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to request information and clarification from the Department of Justice on why it has chosen not to take forward, in the Criminal Justice Bill, all the issues highlighted in the consultation responses that require legislative change.  

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing with representatives of the Organised Crime Taskforce Immigration and Human Trafficking Sub-Group, during the Committee Stage of the Criminal Justice Bill, to assist in its consideration of the clauses relating to human trafficking.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to commission a research paper on the legislation and procedures that are in place, or are being taken forward by other EU countries, to implement the EU Directive, focusing in particular on the issues raised by respondents to the consultation.

9.    The Draft Rules of the Court of Judicature (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) 2012 and the Draft Rules of the Court of Judicature (Northern Ireland) (Amendment No.2) 2012

The Committee considered the Draft Rules of the Court of Judicature (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) 2012 and the Draft Rules of the Court of Judicature (Northern Ireland) (Amendment No.2) 2012.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed that it was content with both draft Rules.

10.  Committee for Finance and Personnel’s Discussion Paper on Maximising the Assembly’s Contribution to the NI Budget Process

The Committee considered a discussion paper from the Committee for Finance and Personnel on maximising the Assembly’s contribution to the NI Budget and the key issues identified by Committees in relation to improving and regularising the Budget process and meeting the information needs of Committees.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed that it was content with the Committee for Finance and Personnel’s approach and preferred option for the way forward and a response should be drafted on this basis.

11.  Proposed EU Regulations on Migration from the Schengen Information System to the Second Generation Schengen Information System and on the Establishment of an Evaluation and Monitoring Mechanism to Verify the Application of the Schengen Acquis

The Committee noted proposed EU regulations on the migration from the Schengen Information System to the Second Generation Schengen Information System and on the establishment of an evaluation and monitoring mechanism to verify the application of the Schengen Acquis.

12.  Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Jurisdiction and the Recognition and Enforcement of Judgements in Civil and Commercial Matters (BRUSSELS I)

The Committee noted a proposed EU Regulation that sets out the rules governing which country’s courts have jurisdiction in cross-border civil and commercial cases and provides for the recognition of judgements and court settlements.

13.  Northern Ireland Prison Service Business Plan 2012-2013

The Committee noted the Northern Ireland Prison Service Business Plan 2012-2013 and Corporate Plan 2011-2015.

14.  Compensation Agency Business Plan 2012-2015

The Committee noted the Compensation Agency Business Plan 2012-2015.

15.  Correspondence

i.     The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice on judicial  independence and the independence of the Chief Constable and the PPS.

ii.    The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister of Justice on the Justice and Security Bill which was introduced to Westminster on 28 May 2012.

iii.   The Committee noted a Summary Report from the Prison Reform Oversight Group following its second meeting in May 2012.

iv.   The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing a copy of the Framework Document for the Compensation Agency which has been agreed with the Department of Finance and Personnel.

v.    The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice on the concerns raised by an individual about a child abuse court case and the lack of availability of legal aid for the family.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to forward the response to the concerned individual.

vi.   The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to a letter from the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety expressing its concern about the leniency of the sentence given to an offender convicted of an attack on a member of staff in the Accident and Emergency Department of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

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

vii.  The Committee noted the response from the Minister of Justice to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Report into Fuel Laundering and Smuggling.

viii. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to the issues raised by a Night Custody Officer on the NI Prison Service Review and Strategic Efficiency and Effectiveness proposals.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to forward the response to the Night Custody Officer.

ix.   The Committee considered an email from a concerned individual regarding the retention of human tissue samples.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to forward the email to the Minister of Justice to follow-up on the issues raised. 

x.    The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel providing an update paper from the Department of Finance and Personnel on the Future of EU Funding after 2013.

xi.   The Committee noted correspondence from Include Youth providing a copy of its response to the consultation on the Future Operation of the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

xii.  The Committee noted correspondence from the Director of Public Prosecutions providing a copy of the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland Annual Business Plan 2012-2013.

xiii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice on the Security Industry Authority’s Annual Report and Accounts 2011/12.

5.03 p.m. Peter Weir joined the meeting.

5.03 p.m. Tom Elliott joined the meeting.

16.  Chairman’s Business

i.     The Chairman advised Members that he had received an invitation to the Northern Ireland Young Solicitors’ Association gala evening on Saturday 23 June 2012 but would be unable to attend.

ii.    The Chairperson informed Members that he had received a request from Down District Council for a meeting to discuss the long-term future of Downpatrick Courthouse.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed that an informal meeting should be arranged with Down District Council to which all Members of the Committee would be invited to attend.

17.  Any other business

The appointment of Al Hutchinson as Police Ombudsman, and further issues regarding the recruitment process that had been highlighted by the Committee for the Administration of Justice were raised.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to request a copy of the response issued in relation to those matters.

18.  Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 28 June 2012 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

5.07p.m. The meeting moved into closed session

19. Inquiry into the Criminal Justice Services available to victims and witnesses of crime – approval of final Inquiry report

The Committee considered the final Report on its Inquiry into the Criminal Justice Services available to Victims and Witnesses of Crime.

Agreed:     that the Title page, Committee Membership and Powers, Table of Contents and List of Abbreviations stand part of the Report.

Agreed:     that paragraphs 1 to 18 stand part of the Report. 

Agreed:     that paragraphs 19 to 259 stand part of the Report. 

Agreed:     that paragraphs 260 to 351 stand part of the Report. 

Agreed:     that the Summary of Recommendations section stands part of the Report.

Agreed:     that the Appendices stand part of the Report. 

Agreed:     that the Executive Summary stands part of the Report. 

Agreed:     that the Chairman approve an extract of the Minutes of Proceedings of today’s meeting for inclusion in Appendix 1 of the Report. 

Agreed:     that the Report on the Inquiry into the Criminal Justice Services available to victims and witnesses of crime be printed.

The Committee considered the wording of a motion to debate the Report.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed the wording of the Committee motion to debate the Report.

The Chairman advised the Committee that the Report will be debated on 3 July 2012 and will be embargoed until the start of the debate.

The Chairman thanked the Committee team for assisting the Committee during its Inquiry and in the production of the Report.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to send an embargoed copy of the Report to the Minister of Justice, the Lord Chief Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief Constable.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to hold an event on Tuesday 3 July 2012, in Parliament Buildings, for representatives of the victim and advocacy support groups and the individuals who contributed to the Inquiry.

Agreed:     The Committee agreed to provide those individuals who attend the event with a copy of the Report and to send an electronic version to all other organisations who gave evidence.

5.15 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice

28 June 2012

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