Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 22 March 2012

Venue: Room 30

The meeting commenced at 2.07 p.m. in closed session.

1. Assembly Legal Advice on Judicial Independence

Hugh Widdis, Assembly Director of Legal and Governance Services, joined the meeting at 2.07 p.m

Mr Widdis outlined a number of key in relation to Judicial Independence and how this impacts on Committee Members and MLAs more generally making public comments and answered questions.

2.19 p.m. Mr Wells joined the meeting.

The Chairman thanked Mr Widdis for the advice and he left the meeting.

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

2. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

3. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 8 March 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 8 March 2012.

4. Matters Arising

i. The Committee noted an up-dated Forward Work Programme including a number of changes to briefings and the scheduling of an additional meeting on Tuesday 27 March 2012.

ii. The Committee noted the programme for the planned visit to Laganside Courts to view the facilities available for Victims and Witnesses which has been scheduled for Wednesday 28 March 2012.

5. Briefing by the Director of Public Prosecutions on issues of public concern following the conclusion of the case of R v Haddock and others

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC and Ms Marie-Anne O’Kane, Acting Assistant Director joined the meeting at 2.29 p.m.

Mr McGrory briefed the Committee on issues of public concern following the conclusion of the case of R v Haddock and others, the use of the evidence of assisting offenders generally and how such cases will be approached by the Public Prosecution Service in the future.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues such as whether considering the outcome, the high cost of the case has damaged public confidence in the Public Prosecution Service; the Public Prosecution Service’s challenge function on the evidence available compared to the Judge’s determination based on a test of “beyond reasonable doubt”; the differences between the current Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) legislation and  the legislation used in the 1980’s; whether legislation is needed on the procedure to be followed by the Director when seeking a review of the reduced sentence given to an assisting offender given the silence of the current law in relation to this matter; the role of the Independent Oversight Panel and what discussion it had with the PPS regarding the case; the role of the PSNI in scoping and debriefing of witnesses and assessing reliability; whether the legislation needs reviewed in the NI context; and whether the witnesses are immune from charges of perjury.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked Mr McGrory and Ms O’Kane and they left the meeting.

The Chairman advised the Committee that the Hansard of the session will be available on Monday 26 March as it is relevant to a debate in Plenary scheduled for 27 March.

6. Briefing on the Mental Capacity Legislation and the Justice System

Gareth Johnston, Head of Criminal Justice Policy and Legislation Division, Michael Kelly, Civil Justice Policy and Legislation Division, Siobhan Broderick, Head of Civil Justice Policy Division and Brian French, Criminal Justice Policy and Legislation Division joined the meeting at 3.54 p.m.

3.55 p.m. Mr Givan left the meeting.

3.55 p.m. Mr McCartney took the Chair.

3.59 p.m. Mr Wells left the meeting.

The officials provided the Committee with an overview of the planned mental capacity legislation, the core provisions of the Bill and the application of the provisions to the criminal justice system and answered questions from Members on issues including how the Department of Justice will consult on the laws of unfitness to be tried; the inclusion of options for community based supervision in the consultation; and the likely cost implications in relation to the implementation of proposals.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

7. Briefing on the draft Community Safety Strategy

Declan McGeown, Head of Community Safety Unit, Sinead Simpson, Head of Strategy Implementation and Research Branch, Community Safety Unit, Steven McCourt, Head of Operations Branch, Policing and Organised Crime Division, and Eamon Jones, Strategy Implementation and Research Branch, Community Safety Unit joined the meeting at 4.12 p.m.

The officials briefed the Committee on the draft Community Safety Strategy.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues such as why no specific percentage reduction targets had been included in the Strategy; how projects will continue during the period when the Community Safety Partnerships have ended and the Policing and Community Safety Partnerships get established; how the new strategy will deal with the fear of crime; what type of projects will arise from the new Strategy; the work on-going with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to address crime in rural communities; what consideration was given when developing the Strategy to making the Department of Justice the primary lead on Domestic Violence rather than the current joint approach with the Department of Health; and how the PCSPs will input into the draft Strategy before it is finalised.

4.20 p.m. Mr Givan rejoined the meeting and took the Chair.

The officials undertook to provide the Committee with information on how the draft strategy compares with the previous strategy.    

4.32 p.m. Ms McCann left the meeting.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the officials and they left the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to refer the draft Strategy to other relevant Statutory Committees for their views/comments on the proposals that will fall to their Departments to deliver and any other issues that should be included in the document. 

8. Proposed changes to the Security Industry Authority Policy on Treatment of Northern Ireland Conflict Related Convictions

The Committee noted proposed changes to the Security Industry Authority’s policy in relation to the treatment of Northern Ireland conflict related convictions which pre date the Belfast Agreement when considering applications for a licence which is required by individuals to work in specified sectors of the Private Security Industry.

9. Draft Consultation on the Introduction of Community Impact Assessments to Northern Ireland

The Committee considered information provided by the Department of Justice on the purpose of Community Impact Assessments and the main areas to be covered in a proposed consultation exercise on the introduction of Community Impact Assessments in Northern Ireland.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation paper to be drawn up on the basis outlined by the Department and noted that a copy of the draft consultation paper would be provided.

10. Request for Legal Advice in relation to the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland

The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee’s request for sight of legal advice obtained by the Police Ombudsman and shared with the department.  

4.40 p.m. Mr Wells rejoined the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Minister of Justice indicating its disappointment that the legal advice, which is key to the Committee’s understanding of the matter, has not been shared given that the Ombudsman appears to already waive privilege by sharing the legal advice with the Department.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that arrangements should be made for the interim Chief Executive of the Ombudsman’s Office to attend a meeting to discuss his role and remit.

11. S.R. 2012/64 Police Service of Northern Ireland Pensions (Amendment) Regulations 2012

The Committee considered Statutory Rule No SR 2012/64 which would implement the first year of increases in police officer pension contribution rates.

Agreed: The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2012/64 Police Service of Northern Ireland Pensions (Amendment) Regulations 2012 and had no objection to the Rule.

12. Proposal for EU Legislation Establishing a Justice Programme 2014 – 2020

The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice indicating that the UK Government is currently considering whether to opt in to a proposed EU Regulation which would establish a funding programme with the objective of improving judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters; facilitating access to justice and supporting the action of member states to prevent and reduce drug demand and supply.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to note the proposed EU Regulation, given that the deadline for a response was past, and write to the Department of Justice expressing concern regarding the lack of notice provided to the Committee to consider the proposal and requesting further information on the likely impact in Northern Ireland if the UK Government decides to opt in and what views the Minister of Justice has submitted to the Lord Chancellor on the proposal.   

13. Proposal for EU Legislation Establishing a Home Affairs EU Funding Programme 2014 – 2020

The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice indicating that the UK Government is currently considering whether to “opt in” to a proposed EU Regulation that would establish two funds; a funding programme with the objective of improving police cooperation, preventing and combating cross-border, serious and organised and terrorist crime and managing security risks; and one with the objective of supporting legal migration, promoting effective integration of third country nationals and enhancing fair return strategies for illegal migrants. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request further information on the likely impact of the proposed EU Regulation in Northern Ireland to enable further consideration to be given to it at the meeting on 29 March 2012.

14. Correspondence

i. The Committee considered a response from the Minister of Justice to its request for a copy of the legal advice referred to in paragraph 3 of a briefing paper on the Secretary of State’s Direction under Section 1A(7) of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953 as amended by Schedule 4 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010.

The Committee noted that a briefing by Northern Ireland Prison Service officials on this issue has been scheduled for the meeting on 10 May. 

ii. The Committee considered a response from the Minister of Justice to its request for information on whether he has any plans to review the 28 day limit under which cases must be referred to the Court of Appeal if a sentence is considered unduly lenient.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Public Prosecution Service requesting information on how it manages the process for deciding whether to appeal a decision and how it engages with the victim/victim’s family.

iii. The Committee noted a response from the Minister of Justice to its request for an update on any plans he has to change the policy on filming in courts in Northern Ireland.

iv. The Committee considered a response from the Minister of Justice to its request that he take legislative action to add fraudulent evasion of duty in relation to oils to the schedule of offences referable to the Court of Appeal on the grounds the sentence is unduly lenient.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write welcoming the Minister’s decision to take action and indicate that relevant provisions should be included in the forthcoming Justice Bill.

v. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request for information on behalf of the Committee for Education on how the Department of Justice intends to take into account the Motion ‘Pupils Living in Poverty’ passed in the Assembly on Monday 23 January 2012.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the response to the Committee for Education.

vi. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request that it consider a proposal for a prison education programme called “Inside Out: Northern Ireland” from a Peace and Reconciliation Group.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the response to the Peace and Reconciliation Group (PRG) for information.

vii. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request for information on two outstanding Post Project Evaluations (PPEs).

viii. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request for clarification regarding the level of Assembly scrutiny that would apply to any draft regulations if existing primary legislation is used to introduce statutory time limits.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request clarification regarding Assembly procedures in relation to a “prayer of annulment”.

ix. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request for information on the key reasons why disqualification orders had not been considered necessary in 105 sexual offences cases which were reviewed as part of the review of court orders in sexual offences cases during 1997-2011.

x. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to its request for information on behalf of the Committee for the Environment on the issue of alcohol consumption on private hire buses and Section 40 of the Justice Act 2011.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the response to the Committee for the Environment.

xi. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the Lord Chancellor’s proposals to devolve the administration of tribunals to Northern Ireland and Scotland and the intention to publish a UK wide consultation document.

xii. The Committee noted the Secretary of State’s Statement on the Security Situation which he made on 27 February 2012 as part of his commitment to provide twice yearly updates summarising the security threat.

xiii. The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice outlining its consideration of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister draft statement of European Priorities 2012/13.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the comments to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister for information.

xiv. The Committee noted the appointment of Professor Brice Dickson as an independent member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

xv. The Committee noted the quarterly summary report of the Prison Reform Oversight Group.

xvi. The Committee considered correspondence from Women’s Aid and Onus outlining its concerns regarding the Regional Strategy and Action Plan for Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward to forward the correspondence to the Department of Justice for a response to the issues raised and to the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety to seek the views of the Department of Health.

xvii. The Committee considered a response from the PSNI to the Committee for Regional Development’s Inquiry into Unadopted Roads in Northern Ireland.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to Committee for Regional Development.

xviii. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Education regarding PSNI involvement in a joint initiative with the DVANI to carry out roadworthiness checks on private hire operators used to transport school children.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the PSNI seeking the information requested by the Committee for Education.

xix. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister regarding the proposed abolition of the Department of Employment and Learning and the transfer of its functions.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice requesting information on any likely impact the proposal may have on justice related matters.

xx. The Committee considered correspondence from a prison officer raising issues regarding the Northern Ireland Prison Service Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to provide the officer with a copy of the Hansard of the oral evidence session when a range of issues relating to the voluntary Early Retirement Scheme were discussed with NI Prison Service officials.

xxi. The Committee noted an invitation from Crimestoppers Northern Ireland to a Metal Theft launch event in the Long Gallery on Tuesday 27 March 2012.

xxii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel providing a copy of an Assembly Research paper entitled “Linking Budgets to outcomes: international experience”.

xxiii. The Committee noted an invitation from the NSPCC to the launch of the Remote TV Link Evaluation on Tuesday 27 March 2012 in the Young Witness Service, Derry/Londonderry.

15. Chairman’s Business

None.

16.  Any other business

i. The issue of the proposed Review of Firearm Licencing and the reasons for the delay on consulting on this matter was raised.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice requesting an update on the current position including the reasons for the delay and when the consultation is likely to proceed.

ii. An issue in relation to Tribunal cases and the lack of provision of legal aid was raised.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the relevant correspondence should be included in the papers for the next meeting when consideration would be given to writing to the Department of Justice on the matter.

17.  Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 27 March at 12.30 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

5.02 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
29 March 2012

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