Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 27 June 2013
Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings
The meeting commenced at 2.11 p.m. in public session.
Apologies are listed above.
2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 20 June 2013
The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 20 June 2013.
3. Matters Arising
i. The Committee noted a change to the proposed provisions within the Faster, Fairer Justice Bill relating to the decision by the Department of Justice that there is no need to amend the Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 in relation to the extended custodial sentence as the total length of such a sentence, and hence the period of disqualification for jury service, is already clearly set out.
ii. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee's request for a detailed breakdown of all resources allocated or provided by the Department in relation to early intervention programmes.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the response did not provide the information requested and that the Department should be asked to provide a further response providing the level of detail requested.
iii. The Committee considered options for the proposed Committee visit to Europe to inform its consideration of EU priorities and its understanding of the role and remit of the European Court of Human Rights and European Court of Justice.
Agreed: The Committee agreed an outline programme for a visit in October 2013.
iv. The Chairman advised Members that an oral briefing by the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland on their work could not be accommodated before summer recess but would be scheduled in September 2013.
v. The Chairman advised Members that arrangements were being made for Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley to attend a meeting to discuss the key principles and content of his Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill. Arrangements would also be made for officials from the Department of Justice to brief the Committee on the Bill.
vi. The Committee noted a summary of the key issues raised and additional information officials agreed to provide during the oral evidence session on progress on the delivery of the Desertcreat Training College Capital Project which, as agreed at the meeting on 20 June 2013, would be referred to the Department of Justice for a response.
4. Public Protection Arrangements Northern Ireland (PPANI) - Briefing on how the Arrangements Operate
Cheryl Lamont, Deputy Director of Operations in the Probation Board and Chair of the PPANI Strategic Management Board, Chief Superintendent Mark Hamilton, Police Service of Northern Ireland, Hugh Hamill, Assistant Director, Probation Board for Northern Ireland and Marcella Leonard, PPANI Co-ordinator joined the meeting at 2.16 p.m.
2.22 p.m. Mr William Humphrey joined the meeting.
2.32 p.m. Mr Raymond McCartney left the meeting.
2.34 p.m. Mr Alex Easton left the meeting.
2.36 p.m. Mr Jim Wells joined the meeting.
The officials outlined how the PPANI arrangements operate to enhance public protection.
A question and answer session followed covering issues including: how the Local Area Public Protection panels ensure that a victim's perspective is taken into account when managing offenders in the community; when the Victims Sub Group was formed and the reasons why it was established; the level of disclosure of information to the public and how this is balanced against a perpetrator's right to a private life; examples of when a serious case review was required and the lessons learnt as a consequence; the rationale for the introduction of a minimum conviction threshold for domestic violence cases; and how the minimum conviction threshold is defined.
The Chairman thanked the officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.
5. Statutory Guidance on Public Protection Arrangements Northern Ireland – Change relating to Domestic Violence Cases
The Committee considered a proposed change to the statutory guidance under Article 50 of the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008, which provides the framework for the operation of the Public Protection Arrangements Northern Ireland, to limit the cadre of domestic violence cases to exclude those with convictions lower than assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content to note the proposed change to the statutory guidance to introduce a minimum conviction threshold in relation to domestic violence cases.
6. SL1: Publicly Funded Representation in the Civil and Family Courts
Robert Crawford, Deputy Director, Mark McGuicken and Kim Elliott, Public Legal Services Division, Department of Justice joined the meeting at 2.46 p.m.
The Committee noted a summary of the responses received to date from key stakeholders on the likely overall impact of proposed changes to criminal and civil legal aid.
2.53 p.m. Mr Tom Elliott joined the meeting.
2.54 p.m. Mr Raymond McCartney joined the meeting.
3.15 p.m. Mr Jim Wells left the meeting.
Mr Crawford briefed the Committee on the results of the consultation on the options for the reform of publicly funded legal representation in the civil and family courts and the proposals for Statutory Rules to make the changes.
A question and answer session followed covering issues including: why the Department is proposing to reduce the level of representation in civil and family law cases in advance of considering efficiency measures such as reducing fee levels; whether solicitors have the capacity and expertise to undertake the increased family law workload and whether they want to; whether removing barristers from certain cases could increase delay; the type of family law cases dealt with in the High Court; whether reform would be under consideration if there was no financial pressures; the number of cases processed through the family courts each year and the percentages dealt with by solicitors and barristers; the factors that determine whether a solicitor or barrister is required; the make-up of the appeal panel; examples of what would be considered exceptional circumstances under the new proposals and the level of flexibility; the savings associated with the proposed reduction in representation; whether the number of barristers who undertake criminal legal aid has reduced since the introduction of the fee structure; the standard of representation since the introduction of the standard fee structure for services in the Crown Court; and whether the 18-month post implementation review of legal aid fees would examine the impact on access to justice for vulnerable people.
The officials agreed to include the impact on vulnerable people as part of the 18-month post implementation review.
The Chairman thanked the officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it wished to hear oral evidence from representatives of the Bar Council, if possible at the meeting on 4 July, on the proposals and was not therefore in a position to indicate whether it was content with the proposal to make Statutory Rules on publicly funded representation in the Civil and Family Courts.
7. Review of the Legal Aid in Crown Court Proceedings (Costs) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2005 as amended – Draft Consultation Document
The Committee considered a proposal by the Department of Justice to undertake a sixteen-week consultation on options to reduce the level of legal aid remuneration for solicitors and counsel for their services in the Crown Court and a six-week consultation on a new fee in respect of sentence hearings.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the sixteen-week consultation on options to reduce the level of legal aid remuneration for solicitors and counsel for their services in the Crown Court and the six-week consultation on the new fee in respect of sentence hearings to take place and to consider the matter further when the results of the consultations are available.
8. Proposals for a New System of Remuneration for Civil Legal Aid Cases - Draft Consultation Document
The Committee considered a proposal by the Department of Justice to undertake a 16-week consultation on the proposals to reform remuneration for civil legal aid cases.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the sixteen week consultation on proposals to reform remuneration for civil legal aid cases to take place and to consider the matter further when the results of the consultation are available.
9. Secretary of State's Direction Under Section 1A(7) of the Prison Act (NI) 1953 as amended by Schedule 4 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010
The Committee noted a proposal to renew, unaltered, for a further twelve months from October 2013, the Secretary of State's Direction under Section 1A(7) of the Prison Act (NI) 1953 as amended by Schedule 4 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010, which specifies the Secretary of State's functions exercisable by Department of Justice officials undertaking prison or prison-related functions, and when exercising those functions, such officials are to be treated as Officers of the Secretary of State.
Some Members reiterated their concerns expressed during an oral briefing on the Direction at the meeting held on 14 June 2012 on this matter.
10. Tribunal Reform – Transfer of Responsibility of DSD and DEL Tribunals
The Committee noted an update on plans for the transfer of both the Fair Employment and Industrial Tribunals from the Department for Employment and Learning and the Appeals Tribunal and Rent Assessment Tribunals from the Department for Social Development to the Department of Justice.
11. Mental Capacity Bill – Timetable for the Legislation
The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Department of Justice regarding the Mental Capacity Bill and a proposal to delay the introduction of the Bill post January 2014 to allow for a complete Bill to be issued for public consultation.
Agreed: The Committee expressed concern regarding the delay in relation to the justice provisions and agreed to request an explanation from the Department of Justice as to why it had not completed the necessary work to allow the introduction of the Bill within the original timeframe and to seek an assurance that the work would be completed without further delay to enable the Bill to be completed within the current Assembly Mandate.
12. Proposals to Vary Firearms Licensing Fees and Other Miscellaneous Amendments to the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 – DoJ Response to Issues Raised
The Committee considered the Department of Justice's response to issues referred by the Committee following oral evidence sessions and in correspondence from the firearms organisations in relation to the Department's proposals to increase the firearms licensing fees and make other miscellaneous amendments to the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004.
The Committee expressed concerns about the proposed fee increases and the breakdown in the relationship between PSNI Firearms Branch and the key firearms organisations.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward a copy of the response from the Department of Justice to the key firearms stakeholders that had submitted oral or written evidence to the Committee and invite any further comments.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was not in a position to accept or support the Department's proposals to vary firearms licensing fees and make other miscellaneous amendments to the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 at this stage as it wished to engage further with the key stakeholders on the matter.
13. Update on Motor Insurance Costs Issues
The Committee noted an update from the Department of Justice on a number of key issues relating to motor insurance costs.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward a copy of the update to the All Party Group on Motor Insurance Costs for information.
i. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee's request for information on the likely timescale for legislation to extend unduly lenient sentencing provisions to fraudulent excise evasion for fuel and tobacco.
ii. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee's request for information on any legal and financial implications of a recent judgement relating to PSNI stop and search procedures and a code of practice.
iii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel providing an analysis of forecasting performance for all Departments including the Department of Justice.
iv. The Committee noted a response from the Judicial Studies Board, on behalf of the Office of the Lord Chief Justice, to the Committee's request for information on the opportunities for Members of the Judiciary to acquaint themselves with prison establishments and to meet with Prison Governors.
v. The Committee noted Parenting NI's Annual Report for the period 2012-13.
vi. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Minister of Justice had issued an authorisation under Section 29 of the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007 in relation to the possession of land at the Invest NI site (Forthriver Business Park), Springfield Road Belfast to enable an effective policing operation in the area in the lead up to, and for a short period after, the Whiterock parade on 29 June 2013.
vii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Minister of Justice intended to make an announcement inviting nominations for the 2013 'Justice in the Community' Awards.
15. Chairman's Business
16. Any Other Business
i. The Chairman reminded Members to make an appointment to collect their tablet computers for use during Committee meetings and receive training and advice on their use. Several issues were raised in relation to the tablets and the training.
ii. The Deputy Chairman updated Members on a useful informal meeting that took place with Judge David Smyth QC to discuss the availability of drugs rehabilitation programmes.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to Judge Smyth to thank him for the very useful and informative discussion.
17. Date and time of next meeting
The next Committee meeting will take place on Thursday 4 July 2013 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.
The meeting was adjourned at 4.45 p.m.