Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 21 March 2013

Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings

The meeting commenced at 2.15 p.m. in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Matters Arising

The Chairperson advised Members that the first Committee informal planning meeting would take place on Thursday 11 April prior to the Committee meeting when the Forward Work Programme for April and early May 2013, which had been circulated, would be discussed.

Agreed: Members agreed to contact the Committee Clerk to confirm availability.

The Chairman advised the Committee that he would move to item 4 on the agenda.

3. Briefing on the Final NI Prison Service Estate Strategy

Sue McAllister, Director General, Max Murray, Director of Estates and Mark Adam, Change Manager, Northern Ireland Prison Service joined the meeting at 2.16 p.m.

The officials outlined the key elements of the final NI Prison Service Estate Strategy.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: the level of funding that has been secured during this budget cycle for the delivery of the Strategy and what will it achieve; whether the skill set exists within the management team to ensure that the projects/plans are costed accurately; the governance and management arrangements for the Prisoner Assessment Unit; the consequences of not getting sufficient funding for the implementation of the Strategy and in particular the proposals for HM Prison Magilligan; who will take the lead on the implementation of the Strategy; the oversight arrangements in place; who will be responsible for identifying whether additional resources are needed for the probation elements of the Strategy; the factors that influenced the decision to retain a prison on the Magilligan site and how issues in relation to the location will be addressed; what structures are in place to ensure that the commitments made by the councillors and communities in the Magilligan area will be delivered in the longer term; the frequency of the Councillor Forum meetings in relation to Magilligan Prison; the reasons why the Strategy is less detailed in relation to the measures to address the needs of women prisoners; whether addressing the needs of women prisoners could potentially be a casualty of funding shortfalls/cuts; the reasons why it has taken this length of time to address the specific needs of women prisoners; whether the work that will take place in Hydebank Wood, in the interim, will include the women's prison; how the Strategy fits with other offender and wider Department of Justice strategies; and which strategy is the main driver in relation to the Prison Reform Programme.

The briefing was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the officials and they left meeting.

4. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 7 March 2013

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 7 March 2013.

5. Briefing on Proposals for the Reform of Financial Eligibility for Civil and Criminal Legal Aid - draft consultation document

Robert Crawford, Deputy Director, Mark McGuicken and Claire Robinson, Public Legal Service Division, Department of Justice joined the meeting at 2.52 p.m.

The officials outlined proposals to consult on the reform of financial eligibility for civil and criminal legal aid.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: whether the proposed £35k income cap would be calculated on an individual's income even if that individual was married; the administration of disregards for mortgages; whether the proposals would impact on access to justice for lone parents; the likely impact of universal credit if it is introduced; whether judicial reviews would be outside the scope of the new proposals; whether any consideration will be given to the cost of a case when calculating eligibility for legal aid; how cases that could be in the public interest can be protected; the potential to outsource assistance and advice services to the voluntary sector; and the cooperation and transfer of funds between Executive departments.
Officials agreed to provide a copy of the research used to inform the development of the proposals for the reform of financial eligibility for civil and criminal legal aid and a table setting out all the changes under consideration in relation to both civil and criminal legal aid including the likely savings and the timescales for introduction.

The briefing was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the officials and they left meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation on the reform of financial eligibility for civil and criminal legal aid to take place and to consider the matter further when the results of the consultation are available.

The Committee agreed to move the oral evidence session on the Collaborative Working in Disadvantaged Areas Initiative to the end of the meeting.

6. SR 2013/35 The Police Service of Northern Ireland and Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve Pensions (Amendment) Regulations 2013

The Committee considered SR 2013/35 The Police Service of Northern Ireland and Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve Pensions (Amendment) Regulations 2013 which details the increases to police pension contribution rates payable by members of the police pension schemes from 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014.

Agreed: The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2013/35 The Police Service of Northern Ireland and Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve Pensions (Amendment) Regulations 2013 and agreed that it was content with the Rule.

7. SR 2013/36 The Police Pension (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2013

The Committee considered SR 2013/36 The Police Pension (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 which amends the police pension regulations to allow automatic enrolment of eligible jobholders into a qualifying pension scheme.

Agreed: The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2013/36 The Police Pension (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 and agreed that it was content with the Rule.

8. Commencement of Article 12 of the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007

The Committee noted information from the Department of Justice indicating the Commencement of Article 12 of the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007 which brings powers into operation on 25 March 2013 to enable police, where they consider it immediately necessary for the preservation of the peace or the maintenance of order, to: wholly or partly close a road; divert or otherwise interfere with a road or the use of a road; prohibit or restrict the exercise of a right of way; and prohibit or restrict the use of a waterway.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request clarification from the Department of Justice on the current procedures/powers the police use in relation to the closure of roads, waterways etc. to deal with immediate operational circumstances.

9. New Disciplinary System for the Northern Ireland Prison Service

The Committee noted a draft Code of Conduct and draft Code of Ethics and Values that had been developed as part of a new disciplinary system for prison grade staff in the Northern Ireland Prison Service to be launched in June 2013.

10. 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 that it was content for the entire provision to amend the Court Rule Making Procedures to be included in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and noted this would require a Legislative Consent Motion.

11. New Victims and Witnesses draft 5 year Strategy - consultation responses, revised strategy and action plan

The Committee considered the new Victims and Witnesses draft 5 year Strategy, which included revisions as a result of the consultation responses, and the proposed action plan for years 1 and 2.

The Committee expressed the view that its Inquiry recommendation regarding the introduction of a maximum waiting time for witnesses had not been adequately addressed in the Strategy and action plan and it was therefore not content with the Strategy and action plan as currently drafted.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice and request that it properly addresses the need to introduce a maximum waiting time for witnesses in the action plan and then refer the draft Strategy and action plan back to the Committee for further consideration.

12. Proposals to vary the Firearms Licensing Fees and other Miscellaneous Amendments to the Firearms (NI) Order 2004

3.38 p.m. Mr Jim Wells joined the meeting.
The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure which included papers referred by the Ulster Clay Pigeon Shooting Association and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, and further correspondence received from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and Countryside Alliance Ireland in relation to the Department of Justice proposals to vary the firearms licensing fees and make other miscellaneous amendments to the Firearms (NI) Order 2004.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice on the issues raised in the oral evidence sessions with key stakeholders which took place on 28 February 2013 and in the further correspondence received by the Committee.

13. Correspondence

i The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Department for Business Innovation and Skills had made an amendment to the Pyrotechnic Article (Safety) Regulations 2010 to lower the age at which Christmas crackers can be bought from 16 years to 12 years.

ii The Committee noted an update from the Department of Justice on the progress of the Pilot Prison Education Programme 'Inside Out'.

iii The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising of the publication of the Youth Justice Agency Statistical Bulletin No. 4/2012: Provisional Workload Statistics: April – December 2012.

iv The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Supreme Court had refused permission to appeal the High Court ruling on the current operation of the law on pre-charge police bail.

v The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice in relation to its request for clarification of the protocols in place between the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Housing Associations in relation to the sharing of information relevant to the work of Policing and Community Safety Partnerships.

vi The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the equal pay claims for Department of Justice/Northern Ireland Office/Police Service of Northern Ireland support staff had been dismissed and providing a copy of the County Court judgement.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule an oral briefing by officials on the equal pay claims issues into its Forward Work Programme.

vii The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment providing papers on a Financial Capability Strategy for Northern Ireland.

viii The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister providing a copy of the Executive's Investment Strategy Quarterly Report – October to December 2012

ix The Committee considered further correspondence from a Mr Patrick McCourt in relation to the Compensation Act 1988 and convictions quashed on appeal.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule a briefing by officials on the interpretation of the Compensation Act 1988 into its Forward Work Programme.

x The Committee noted an invitation from Napp Pharmaceutical to a breakfast briefing on roadside testing legislation which is currently going through Westminster and the potential implications for patients on prescribed medication for pain.
Agreed: Members agreed to advise the Clerk if they wished to attend the briefing.

xi The Committee noted an invitation from Action for Children, Barnardo's NI and Extern to the launch of 'Realising Ambition Programmes'.
Agreed: Members agreed to advise the Clerk if they wished to attend the launch.

xii The Committee noted the Funds in Court in Northern Ireland – Statement of Accounts 2011-2012.

xiii The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development enclosing comments from the Ulster Farmers Union on guidance on the use of reasonable force.

14. Chairman's Business

The Chairman advised Members that he and the Deputy Chairman had been invited to speak to the Council of the Law Society on 4 September 2013 on the work of the Committee and both would attend, diary commitments permitting.

15. Any other business

Members who participated in the recent Committee visit to Westminster, the Supreme Court and HM PrisonWoodhill, Milton Keynes commented on the very interesting and informative meetings and briefings that took place.

16. Briefing on Collaborative Working in Disadvantaged Areas Initiative

Declan McGeown, Deputy Director, Community Safety Unit, Department of Justice, Jennifer Douglas, Partnership Development Branch, Department of Justice, Chief Superintendent Mark Hamilton and Chief Inspector Mark McEwan, Police Service of Northern Ireland joined the meeting at 3.45 p.m.

The officials outlined the current position in relation to the Collaborative Working in Disadvantaged Areas (CWDA) initiative.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: whether the work on the six pathfinder areas had been completed or whether they had transferred to the new scheme; the projects that had been carried out in the six pathfinder areas and what funding was provided; how the pathfinder areas had been selected; the role of the Department of Justice in early intervention schemes and what funding it provides; whether there is a need for a statutory mechanism for the sharing of information between the various organisations/agencies; the improvements that have been made in the sharing of information between statutory organisations as a result of the initiative; how the CWDA initiative sits with the Social Investment Fund; how recent protests have impacted on the CWDA initiative in East Belfast; the benefits of the initiative; the ways in which PCSPS could pitch to have the initiative in their area; what evaluation of projects that are part of the initiative was undertaken; and the level of bureaucracy associated with the initiative.

4.25 p.m. Mr Alban Maginness joined the meeting.

The Chairman thanked the officials and they left meeting.

17. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 11 April 2013 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.
The meeting was adjourned at 4.26 p.m.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
11 April 2013

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