Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 25 April 2013

Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings

The meeting commenced at 2.10 p.m. in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 18 April 2013

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 18 April 2013.

3. Matters Arising

i Members noted an up-dated Forward Work programme for April and May 2013.
ii Members considered the papers that would be provided to Members for the session with the Lord Chief Justice on Thursday 2 May 2013.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that Members would advise the Clerk of any other papers they wished to be included in the meeting folder by noon on Monday 29 April 2013.

iii The Chairman advised Members that the joint visit with the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety to the new Sexual Assault Referral Centre at Antrim Area Hospital at 2 p.m. on Wednesday 8 May 2013 had been confirmed.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that Members would advise the Clerk if they wished to participate in the visit.

iv The Chairman advised Members that a request had been received from a Mr Barry Turley to give a presentation to the Committee for Justice and Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety on 'Creative intervention techniques in forensic mental health' which focuses on a unique programme in the Northern Trust Area to help in the development of mental health patients with a history of violence as part of the visit to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) at Antrim Area Hospital on Wednesday 8 May 2013.

Agreed: Given that the SARC visit programme is already finalised, the Committee agreed with the proposal by the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety to hold a joint informal meeting at a later date to hear the presentation.
2.13 p.m. Mr Stewart Dickson joined the meeting.

4. Briefing by the Northern Ireland Law Commission on its Report on Bail in Criminal Proceedings in Northern Ireland

Professor Sean Doran, Commissioner and Katie Quinn, Legal Staff, Northern Ireland Law Commission joined the meeting at 2.14 p.m.

2.15 p.m. Mr Jim Wells joined the meeting.

The representatives outlined the findings and conclusions of the report on Bail in Criminal Proceedings in Northern Ireland and the proposed legislative changes.

2.38 p.m. Mr William Humphrey joined the meeting.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: the consistency of decisions in relation to the refusal/granting of bail and factors affecting decisions; the views of the judiciary on legislation that would assist consistency; whether the issue of the 'no real prospect' test to bail decisions had been covered in the Law Commission report; how the report deals with victims and the provision of information to them in relation to bail decisions; how information on bail decisions can be communicated to the wider public; to what extent bail decisions in individual cases are comparable; the new statutory regime for bail guarantors and the requirement for sureties for bail; what discussion had taken place between the Department and the Law Commission in relation to its proposals for a further consultation exercise and its views on the Commission's recommendations; the reasons for not already having a single unified Bail Act in Northern Ireland; the Commission's views on the envisaged timeframe of 2015 for the introduction of a Bail Bill.

The briefing was recorded by Hansard.

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

2.53 p.m. Mr Seán Lynch left the meeting.

5. Department of Justice Proposed Consultation on NI Law Commission Proposals for New Bail Legislation

The Committee considered proposals by the Department of Justice to undertake a consultation on the Law Commission bail proposals and a draft Bill and an additional matter of a 'no real prospect' test to bail decisions.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation to take place and that it would consider the matter further when the results are available.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request clarification from the Department of Justice on the rationale for the inclusion of the 'no real prospect' test to bail decisions in the consultation and the reasons for the envisaged lengthy timeframe for the introduction of a Bail Bill.

6. Briefing on Proposed Statutory Rules on Legal Aid Reform: Magistrates' Courts Remuneration

Robert Crawford, Deputy Director, John Halliday and Jim Millar, Public Legal Services Division, Department of Justice joined the meeting at 2.55 p.m.
2.59 p.m. Mr Seán Lynch joined the meeting.

The officials outlined proposals for Statutory Rules under powers conferred by Article 36(3) of the Legal Aid, Advice and Assistance Order (Northern Ireland) 1981 to change the legal aid remuneration arrangements for solicitors and counsel representing defendants in the Magistrates' Courts.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: the rationale for the removal of the Guilty Plea 2 fee; the reasons for the introduction of the contest preparation fee and possible implications of it; the reasons why the provision for Very High Cost Cases should be removed from the Magistrates' Courts; whether the removal of Very High Cost Cases had the potential to prevent someone from getting representation; how the 750 page count for commital cases was arrived at; the proposals regarding new PACE fees; the development of policy proposals for a Public Defender system in Magistrates' Courts cases; and whether the changes are cost neutral.

The briefing was recorded by Hansard.
The Chairman thanked the representatives for the briefing and they left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed Statutory Rules.

The Committee considered an overview table of all the changes under consideration in relation to both civil and criminal legal aid, including the likely savings and the timescales for introduction which was provided by the Department of Justice at the request of the Committee.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to discuss the format for engagement with key stakeholders on the overall impact of proposed legal aid changes at its informal planning meeting on 2 May 2013.

7. Briefing on the New Victims and Witnesses draft 5 year Strategy and Action Plan

Maura Campbell, Head of Criminal Justice Development Division, Veronica Holland, Criminal Justice Development Division, Department of Justice and Peter Luney, Head of Court Operations, Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Services, joined the meeting at 3.29 p.m.
The officials outlined further proposed revised actions in relation to the introduction of a maximum waiting time for witnesses including new standards for witnesses that would be developed as part of the new statutory witness charter but introduced initially in year 1 and 2 of the strategy by administrative measures.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including: what the standards for witnesses would cover; whether the standards would be comparable to those in place in England and Wales; whether the standards set in years 1 and 2 would be improved for years 3 to 5 of the strategy; whether individuals would be identified as points of contact for witnesses for the provision of regular updates regarding progress of their case; whether the performance figures for individual courts would be published; the reasons for the disparity in waiting times across courthouses; what performance monitoring system would be put in place and what actions would be taken for courts that do not meet the required standards; the reasons why standards have not been put in place before now; when improvements in relation to witness waiting times will become evident; whether any resource savings as a result of courthouse closures would be used to make court sittings more efficient; and the need for accurate data on waiting times to be collated.

The briefing was recorded by Hansard.
The Chairman thanked the representatives for the briefing and they left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the revised action which would mean that, in years 1 and 2 of the Victims and Witnesses Five Year Strategy, standards for waiting times for witnesses would be put in place on an administrative basis and a bespoke monitoring system developed to assess performance with the standards to be included in the Statutory Witness Charter which would be introduced in Years 3 to 5 of the Strategy and to recommend that performance figures for each court in relation to witness waiting times should be published.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that, in light of the revisions in relation to witness waiting times, it was now content with the draft Strategy and Action Plan.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request six-monthly updates on the implementation of the Strategy and Action Plan.

8. S.R. 2013/82 The Crown Court (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2013

The Committee considered S.R. 2013/82 the Crown Court (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2013 that will prescribe the procedure for making an application for the examination of a witness, or an accused, through an intermediary under the relevant provisions in the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1999, including the form of the declaration which the intermediary must make before acting, and rectify an error relating to costs in criminal cases.

Agreed: The Committee considered SR 2013/82 the Crown Court (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2013 and agreed that it was content with the Rule.

9. Proposals to Align the Pyrotechnic Articles Directive and the Civil Explosives Directive to the New Legislative Framework

The Committee noted the current position in relation to the negotiations between the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and the EU Commission on proposals to align the Pyrotechnic Articles Directive and the Civil Explosives Directive within existing legislation.

10. Correspondence

i. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Compensation Agency will no longer be included in the list of organisations that may be inspected by the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland under section 46 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 and that the list will be updated.

ii. The Committee noted an update from the Department of Justice on the key policy areas discussed at the Police Negotiating Board quarterly meeting on 11 April 2013.

iii. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety requesting further clarification from the Department of Justice in relation to tobacco legislation.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Department of Justice for a response on the issues raised.

iv. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Employment and Learning regarding correspondence received by a number of Statutory Committees, including the Committee for Justice, from a Ms Quinn in relation to a disability discrimination tribunal claim and various matters which relate to a number of Government Departments.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to respond to Ms Quinn on the same basis as the Committee for Employment and Learning given the cross-cutting nature of the issue raised.

v. The Committee considered further correspondence from a Mr and Mrs Shaw asking for an independent inquiry in relation to their court proceedings.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to respond to Mr and Mrs Shaw indicating that, as stated in previous correspondence, it would not be appropriate for it to consider the matter further.

vi. The Committee noted a copy of correspondence from the Department of Justice to the Clerk to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister regarding the proposal to legislate for alternative delivery of the functions of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman.

vii. The Committee considered an invitation from the Prisoner Ombudsman to the launch of her Annual Report 2012-13 on Wednesday 15 May 2013 in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that Members would contact the Clerk if they wished to attend the event.

viii. The Committee noted an invitation to NIACRO's 1st Justice Series 2013-14 seminar entitled Wipe the Slate Clean? Why Criminal Records shouldn't be a Sentence for Life to be held on Thursday 2 May 2013 in Parliament Buildings.

ix. The Committee noted the House of Lords European Union Committee Report on EU Police and Criminal Justice Measures – The UK's 2014 Opt-Out Decision.

11. Chairman's Business

None.

12. Any other business

None.

13. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 2 May 2013 at 2.00 pm in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.
The meeting was adjourned at 4.10 p.m.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
2 May 2013

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