Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 29 March 2012

Venue: Room 30

The meeting commenced at 2.06 p.m. in open session

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 22 March 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 22 March 2012.

3. Matters Arising

2.07 p.m. Mr McCartney joined the meeting.

2.07 p.m. Mr McCrea joined the meeting.

i. The Committee noted that the briefing by the Interim Chief Executive of the Office of the Police Ombudsman is provisionally scheduled for 3 May 2012. 

ii. The Committee considered correspondence from the Minister of Justice advising that, due to an error in the figures provided by Civil Service Pensions Branch to the NI Prison Service in relation to the Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme, six members of staff had been selected to leave the Service on 31 March when that should not have been the case based on the criteria used. The Minister also stated that advice received from the Departmental Solicitors Office, Internal Audit and HMRC indicates that entitlement begins on 31 March 2012 as this is the date the Prison Service declared that staff will leave and payments under the scheme would therefore fall within the 2011/12 tax year.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request clarification in relation to whether Prison Officers aged 55 or over who have signed up for the Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme but have not received a date to leave the Service can draw down their pension lump sum gratuity or elements of it.

2.14 p.m. Mr Eastwood joined the meeting.

iii. The Committee considered the summary paper on the Review of Judicial Appointments in Northern Ireland and noted a relevant newspaper article and the House of Lords Constitution Committee, report on Judicial Appointments that had just been published.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to discuss their final views on the Review of Judicial Appointments at the meeting on 19 April.

iv. The Committee noted that a petition of concern can be tabled on a Prayer of Annulment in relation to a negative resolution statutory rule.

4. Briefing by the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman on the Review of Judicial Appointments in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman, Mr Karamjit Singh, joined the meeting at 2.17 p.m.

Mr Singh briefly outlined his views on the current arrangements for Judicial Appointments and Removals in Northern Ireland based on the complaints that he had dealt with.

2.44 p.m. Mr Wells joined the meeting.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as whether the Ombudsman’s role could be expanded to include the investigation of complaints from the public about the judiciary; whether there needs to be a separate Judicial Appointments Ombudsman or whether the role could be incorporated into a wider Justice Ombudsman; whether the judiciary is reflective of the community in Northern Ireland and what could be done to address the gender and ethnicity imbalances; the perception that the current appointments process is dominated by the judiciary and the legal profession; the time lag between action and resulting changes; the need for any arrangements to provide confidence in the system; and the ombudsman’s limited powers and ability to investigate only individual complaints from those who participated in a particular competition.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked Mr Singh and he left the meeting.

The Committee considered the publication of information by the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission which provided details of solicitors’ firms and barristers who received the highest total payments from legal aid in the 2010/11 financial year.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission for clarification of the reason for withholding one of the names on the list.

5. Briefing on Corporate Governance Arrangements in the Northern Ireland Prison Service

Colin McConnell, Director General, Northern Ireland Prison Service, Gary Boyd, Director of Finance, Planning and Corporate Governance, and Jenny Small, Project Manager, Finance, Planning and Corporate Governance joined the meeting at 2.56 p.m.

The officials briefly outline the actions being taken to improve the Corporate Governance Arrangements in the Northern Ireland Prison Service following the findings of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate and the Prison Review Team.

3.14 p.m. Ms McCann joined the meeting.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including the respective roles of Headquarters senior management and governing governors; the membership of the Prison Service Management Board, its composition and how it is appointed; the mechanisms for ensuring that the reform programme is focussed and manageable with a clear implementation plan; the effect the handling of the Early Voluntary Retirement Scheme had had on the morale of some staff; issues regarding how information is being communicated to the staff on the ground; what progress has been made with the overall change programme; the provision of Education and Skills in the Prison Service whether would be outsourced and whether it should be a statutory provision; and the issue of the taxation of payments  under the Early Voluntary Retirement Scheme.

3.34 p.m. Mr Eastwood left the meeting.

3.44 p.m. Mr Weir left the meeting.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked Mr McConnell, Mr Boyd and Ms Small for the briefing and they left the meeting.

6. Briefing on Proposals for an Early Removal Scheme for Foreign National Prisoners

Max Murray, Director of Offender Services and Alan Smyth, Head of Licensing and Legislation, Northern Ireland Prison Service joined the meeting at 3.53 p.m.

4.03 p.m. Mr Weir rejoined the meeting.

4.05 p.m. Mr Givan left the meeting.

4.05 p.m. Mr McCartney took the Chair.

The officials outlined the main elements of the proposal for an Early Removal Scheme for Foreign National Prisoners.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as the format of the consultation document and the proposed shortened consultation period; whether the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities and the Human Rights Commission had been asked for their views on the issues; and the number of people in the prison population that would be impacted by the scheme.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the officials and they left the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content that the Prison Service consult on the proposals as outlined but that questions/prompts should be included in the document to encourage responses.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation period to last six weeks as long as flexibility is shown to those stakeholders who request more time to respond.

7. SL1 – The Carriage of Explosives (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee considered proposals to make a Statutory Rule to amend the Carriage of Explosives Regulations (NI) 2010.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed Statutory Rule

8. SL1 – Royal Jubilee Bank Holiday –  4 and 5 June 2012

The Committee considered a proposal to make a Statutory Rule to amend Police Regulations to change the list of public/bank holidays available to police officers in the PSNI to provide that the “last Monday in May” (28 May) will be replaced as a bank holiday by 4 June with an additional holiday on 5 June for this year only to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed Statutory Rule.

9. SR 2012/82 Police Service of Northern Ireland and Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve (Injury Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations 2012

The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2012/82 which would make amendments to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve (Injury Benefit) Regulations 2006.

Agreed: The Committee considered Statutory Rule 2012/82 Police Service of Northern Ireland and Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve (Injury Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 and had no objection to it.

10. The Magistrates' Courts (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee noted further information provided by the Department of Justice in relation to proposed amendments to the Magistrates’ Courts Rules which will give effect to policy decisions which have been set in the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.   

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

The Committee considered further information provided by the Department of Justice on the likely impact of the proposals should the UK decide to opt into the proposed EU Regulation establishing a Home Affairs EU Funding Programme 2014-2020.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request information on what the funding would be for and what type of programmes would be funded.

12. Proposal for EU Legislation on  Accessions to the 1980 Hague Convention on Child Abduction

The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the UK Government was currently considering whether to opt in to proposed EU legislation on acceptance by Members States of the accession of eight countries to the 1980 Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. 

The Committee expressed concern that the timescale for a decision on this matter had given it little or no opportunity to properly consider the EU proposal which was entirely unsatisfactory and that information on the likely impact for Northern Ireland had not been provided. This had happened recently in relation to two other EU proposals as well.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice reminding it of the agreed handling arrangements under which information on the likely impact for Northern Ireland of a proposal should be provided and outlining its concerns that the necessary information has not been provided and the timescales had given the Committee little or no opportunity to properly consider the EU proposal.

13. Update on the Introduction of Portable Disclosure Checks in Northern Ireland

The Committee considered information from the Department of Justice regarding developments in relation to the introduction of portable disclosure checks in Northern Ireland.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request clarification of how employers would gain access to the disclosure information.

14. Correspondence

i. The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice advising that the Minister of Justice had signed the third Commencement Order in respect of the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request information on the interim funding available to ensure the continuance of projects between the ending of Community Safety Partnerships and the introduction of the new Policing and Community Safety Partnerships and the timescale for progress in relation to the Code of Practice guidance on PCSP/DPCSP function’s and the appointment of designated organisations.

ii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister of Justice regarding additional funding for the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland to investigate historical cases.

iii. The Committee considered further information provided by the Minister of Justice in relation to his proposals on the way forward following the Review of Community Sentences.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request details of the timescale in relation to when the Minister will advise the Committee of how he intends to take forward this issue.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request an up-date on the number of people committed to prison for non-payment of fines in each of the last six-months and whether there has been an increase compared to the previous six-months.

iv. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee’s request for further information on the Department’s Reform Programme, likely savings and a number of staff-related issues.

v. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to the Committee’s request for clarification of the likely impact the review of Budget Allocations for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 given the Department’s ring-fenced status.

vi. The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to issues raised by a retired Police Officer regarding Police Injury on Duty Awards (IOD) for the over 65’s.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the letter to the officer and send a copy to the NI Policing Board for information.

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

vii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing an update in respect of Tribunal Reforms.

viii. The Committee noted a copy of Statistical Reports ‘Victim and Witness Satisfaction Update’ and ‘Northern Ireland Victim and Witness Survey (NIVAWS) Key Findings Report’.

ix. The Committee considered correspondence from the Belfast Solicitor’s Association highlighting three issues of concern to its members.

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

x. The Committee considered correspondence from an individual recording a lack of legal support for employees at Employment and other Tribunals.

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

xi. The Committee considered correspondence from a Mr Hammond regarding delays in NICS pay awards to PSNI civilian staff.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request an up-date on the situation including the availability of funding for the pay awards in the new financial year from the Department of Justice.

xii. The Committee considered correspondence regarding Policing at Belfast International Airport and a proposal to reduce the number of airport police.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the PSNI for a response on the issues raised in relation to security and send a copy to the NI Policing Board for information.

xiii. The Committee considered correspondence from an individual regarding a court case.

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

xiv. The Committee considered a request from an individual for a meeting to discuss issues relating to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 legislation.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that arrangements should be made for an informal meeting to take place.

xv. The Committee considered a response from the Director of Public Prosecutions to the Committee’s request for clarification regarding funding allocated in the January Monitoring Round.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek further clarification regarding carry over of the funding into the next financial year and the impact on the ability of the PPS to meet targets in relation to underspends.

xvi. The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice providing information on the costs associated with the R -v-. Haddock and Others case that had been finalised to date.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request a more detailed breakdown of the costs.

15.  Chairman’s Business

None.

16. Any other business

None.

17. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 19 April at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

4.39 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
19 April 2012

Find Your MLA

tools-map.png

Locate your local MLA

Find MLA

News and Media Centre

tools-media.png

Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

tools-social.png

Keep up to date with what’s happening at the Assem

Find out more

Contact information

tools-newsletter.png

Contact us for further information about our work.

Contact us