Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 22 November 2012
Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings
The meeting commenced at 2.03 p.m. in public session.
2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 15 November 2012
The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 15 November 2012.
3. Matters Arising
i The Chairman raised the issue of the leaked confidential legal advice which had been provided to the Committee for Justice at the previous meeting. The Chairman highlighted that it was a matter of great concern and referred to the letter sent to all MLAs by the Clerk to the Assembly/Director General that indicated the serious issues involved. The Chairman reminded Members that any legal advice provided to the Committee had to be treated in strict confidence.
ii Members considered a draft programmme for the Committee meeting and visit to Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre, Bangor on 29 November 2012.
Agreed: The Committee agreed the draft programme.
iii The Committee considered a report of the informal stakeholder reception that took place on 25 October 2012 which included suggested follow-up actions.
Agreed: The Committee agreed the actions as outlined in the report.
iv The Committee considered an updated forward work programme for the period November to December 2012 and the work which needed to be carried out before its report on the Committee Stage of the Criminal Justice Bill could be finalised.
Agreed: The Committee agreed the forward work programme.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to hold an additional meeting to consider outstanding issues in relation to the Criminal Justice Bill in advance of its formal clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill.
2.09p.m. Alex Easton left the meeting.
4. Further consideration of matters relating to the Criminal Justice Bill
The Committee noted the current position in relation to the sex offender and human trafficking provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill and those areas identified for further consideration at a future meeting.
The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing further information in relation to issues raised regarding human trafficking during consideration of the Criminal Justice Bill on 8 November 2012.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to consider the information at the next meeting at which the Bill will be discussed.
The Committee considered whether there were any other issues that had been raised in the evidence received on the human trafficking clauses that required further consideration.
Agreed: Noting that the issues raised, which did appear to have merit, were covered in a Private Members’ Bill on human trafficking which would come to the Committee for scrutiny following introduction, the Committee agreed to consider them further in that context.
The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice in relation to a proposal for a miscellaneous provision to vary the current tariffs on prohibition on holding firearms, to reflect the type and seriousness of the offence, that had been submitted to the Committee.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it would consider the matter further as part of the consultation on proposals to vary the Firearms Licensing Fees and other miscellaneous amendments being undertaken by the Department of Justice.
The Committee considered the wording of a proposed departmental amendment to make additional legislative provision in relation to the Registered Intermediaries Scheme.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed departmental amendment.
The Committee was briefed by the Bill Clerk on its proposal to abolish the offence of scandalising the court and considered the wording of an amendment for inclusion in the Criminal Justice Bill.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that a copy of the consultation undertaken in England and Wales on this issue should be provided to Members.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Attorney General for Northern Ireland to seek his views on the proposal to abolish the offence.
5. Update on proposed Terms of Reference for NI Courts Estate Strategy and proposals for the way forward in relation to the closure of Five Hearing Centres
Jacqui Durkin, Chief Executive, Sharon Hetherington, Head of Finance and Estates, Peter Luney, Head of Court Operations, Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, and Glyn Capper, Deputy Director of Finance, Department of Justice, joined the meeting at 2.23 p.m.
The officials outlined the proposed way forward in relation to the Review of the Courts Estate and the decisions by the Minister of Justice to close four Hearing Centres, Bangor, Larne, Limavady and Magherafelt by 2014 and to give further consideration to the future of Strabane Courthouse as part of the wider Estate Review.
2.23p.m. Patsy McGlone joined the meeting.
2.30p.m. William Humphrey joined the meeting.
2.43p.m. Jim Wells joined the meeting.
A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: the impact of the Hearing Centre closures on ‘access to justice’; the level of users who rely on public transport; the likely impact on the efficiency of the administration of court business; possible alternative business models; the capacity of other Hearing Centres to absorb the extra workload; the level of, and reduction in, current and capital savings; the reasons to retain Strabane Hearing Centre pending the outcome of the Estates Review; the disability access available at the various Hearing Centres; consideration of alternative venues; the likely future use of the Hearing Centres due to close; the opposition expressed by legal professionals to the proposed closures; the likely impact of the closures on town status; the frequency of use of Hearing Centres; the reasons why decisions have been taken to close a number of the Hearing Centres in advance of the wider review of the justice estate; and the remit and number of justice related premises that will be covered by the wider justice estate review.
The Chairman thanked the officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the decision to close four Hearing Centres was premature and the Department should consider their future as part of the wider justice estate review.
The briefing was recorded by Hansard.
6. Draft public consultation: Legal Aid Reform Representation in the Civil and Family Courts
Robert Crawford, Deputy Director and Mark McGuicken and Kim Elliott, Public Legal Services Division, Department of Justice joined the meeting at 3.12 p.m.
Officials outlined proposals for a public consultation on options to reduce the level of legally aided representation in civil and family cases.
3.40p.m. Tom Elliott joined the meeting.
A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: the reasons why civil legal aid expenditure has risen steeply over the last two years; how civil cases are funded; the level of the increase in the average cost of civil legal aid cases; whether barristers specialise in either civil or criminal cases; opportnities to introduce standard fees in civil and family cases; the level of representation in family proceedings; the likely impact on access to appropriate representation; the level of control in place regarding civil legal aid; and the likely savings that would be delivered by the proposed reforms.
The officials agreed to provide further information on a range of issues.
The Chairman thanked the officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.
4.07p.m. Seán Lynch left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation document to issue and to consider the issue further when the results of the consultation are available.
7. SR No. 2012/391: Legal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2012
The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2012/391 Legal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 which replaces the existing exemptions to the Statutory Charge with a new list of exemptions and remove the existing waiver which applies in matrimonial cases.
Agreed: The Committee for Justice considered Statutory Rule 2012/391 Legal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 and has no objection to the rule.
8. SR No. 2012/395: The Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 (Amendment) Regulations 2012
The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2012/395 The Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 (Amendment) Regulations 2012 which provides for a person resident in Northern Ireland applying for a Visitor’s Firearms permit on behalf of another person to produce to the Chief Constable a copy of the European Firearms Pass as an alternative to the original document.
Agreed: The Committee for Justice considered Statutory Rule 2012/395 The Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 (Amendment) Regulations 2012 and has no objection to the rule.
9. The Magistrates’ Courts (Costs in Criminal Cases) (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012
The Committee noted that the Minister of Justice was content with the proposed Magistrates’ Courts Rules to abolish the statutory maximum amount of costs that may be awarded in criminal cases in Magistrates’ Courts and allow full discretion to determine the amount of costs that may be awarded on a case-by-case basis, and update the scale of allowances payable as witnesses as part of an order for costs in a Magistrates’ Court by replacing it with a new scale based on that used by the Public Prosecution Service and the Rules Committee intended that they would come into operation on 1 January 2013.
10. Department of Justice Reform Programme: Update on Project Savings
The Committee noted an update from the Department of Justice on its Reform Programme and the position in relation to reductions in posts, cost reductions and opportunities for further efficiencies.
i The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the European Commission Legislative Work Programme for 2013 which detailed the legislative proposals which fall within the remit of Justice and Home Affairs.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk should consider, in conjunction with departmental officials, possible ways to enhance engagement on EU matters between the Department and the Committee.
ii The Committee noted an invitation from the Minister of Justice to the Justice in the Community Awards on Wednesday 12 December 2012 in Parliament Buildings.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that Members would advise the Clerk if they wished to attend this event.
iii The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the inclusion of a project on Electoral Law Reform in the Northern Ireland Law Commission’s Second Programme of Law Reform (2012-2015).
iiii The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing an update on the establishment of a temporary Working Party of the Police Negotiating Board and further details of the terms and conditions that the Working Party might examine.
v The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister of Justice on the transfer of residual policing and justice functions by an Order in Council under Section 86 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
vi The Committee noted correspondence from the Public Prosecution Service providing a copy of the Seventh Formal Report of the Independent Assessor of complaints for the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek clarification on the complaints process and who was eligible to submit a complaint to the Independent Assessor.
vii The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment regarding a debate on its motion on the Small Business Research Initiative (SRBI) which will take place on Monday 26 November 2012.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice to draw its attention to the initiative, seek information of its potential in the Department and encourage the Department to consider ways of increasing up-take.
viii The Committee noted the Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland Investing Activity Report for the Department of Justice – November 2012.
4.20p.m. Patsy McGlone left the meeting
4.22p.m. William Humphrey left the meeting
12. Chairman’s Business
The Chairman informed Members that a Freedom of Information request had been received for a copy of the letter from the Attorney General to the Committee regarding the Marie Stopes private clinic and the letter from Donaghy Carey on behalf of Precious Life on the same matter and the information would be released.
13. Any Other Business
i The Committee considered a draft press release outling its views on the Minister of Justice’s decision to close four Hearing Centres.
Agreed: The Committee agreed the draft press release on the closure of four Hearing Centres.
ii Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule an oral briefing by the Northern Ireland Prison Service on the results of the trials of the scanners to replace full-body searches in prisons and a site visit to view the scanners into the Forward Work Programme.
iii The issue of the terms of the procurement tender for the construction of the Northern Ireland Police, Fire and Prison Service Training College at Desertcreat and in particular the specific requirement that Kilkenny limestone and Donegal quartz be used which severly limited the opportunities for local businesses to submit bids was raised.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Minister of Justice in relation to the matter and copy the correspondence to the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
iv Agreed: The Committee agreed to schedule an oral briefing by the Prisoner Ombudsman on her recent report into the death by suicide of an inmate in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre and other relevant issues into the Forward Work Programme.
14. Date and time of next meeting
The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 27 November 2012 at 11.00 a.m. in Room 21, Parliament Buildings.
4.28 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.
Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
29 November 2012