Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 08 December 2011

Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings

The meeting commenced at 2.05p.m. in public session

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 28 November 2011

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 28 November 2011.

3. Matters Arising

i. The Committee noted that a copy of the presentation delivered by the Chief Executive of Forensic Science NI during the Committee visit on 27 November.

ii. The Committee noted a proposed programme for the visit and evidence event in Derry/Londonderry on Thursday 15 December 2011 in relation to the Committee Inquiry.

4. Briefing by Assembly Researcher on Research Papers for the Inquiry into Victims and Witnesses of Crime

Fiona O’Connell, Assembly Researcher, joined the meeting at 2.10 p.m.

Ms O’Connell outlined the key points in two research papers covering the status of victims in the criminal justice system and examples of good practice initiatives in relation to victims and witnesses of crime in a range of jurisdictions and answered member’s questions.

Ms O’Connell agreed to provide further information on a number of areas.

The Chairman thanked Ms O’Connell for the briefing and she left the meeting.

5. Briefing by the Chief Inspector, Dr Maguire, on the Criminal Justice Inspectorate Report on the Care and Treatment of Victims and Witnesses in the Criminal Justice System

Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice Inspection NI and Derek Williamson, Inspector joined the meeting at 2.27 p.m.

The Chairman advised Members that the action plan agreed by the Criminal Justice Board in response to the report recommendations had been received and copies were circulated.

Dr Maguire briefed the Committee on the key findings and recommendations of the CJI report into the care and treatment of victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. 

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as a definition of Judicial Independence and the remit of CJI in relation to the administration of the Court process; the recommendation for statutory time limits and statutory case progression; the proposed introduction of Witness Care Units and the role of PSNI Community Liaison Teams; what evidence was available regarding the type of crime and the satisfaction levels of victims; the need for Victim’s Champions and accountability issues; the Chief Inspector’s views on the proposed Criminal Justice Board action plan; the issue of inconsistency across criminal justice organisations in how they support and respond to victims and witnesses; how the reporting of crime, especially sexual abuse and domestic abuse, could be encouraged; whether there is a need for a statutory code of practice and statutory rights for victims and witnesses; the need for continuity across the criminal justice system and a “joined-up” system; and the impact delay in case had on victims and witnesses.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked Dr Maguire and Mr Williamson for the briefing and they left the meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice regarding the Chief Inspector’s views on the Criminal Justice Board action plan.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice regarding the extent and scope of the definition of Judicial Independence.

6. Briefing on the draft Programme for Government 2011-2015: Department of Justice Commitments

Peter May, Director, Safer Communities, Gareth Johnston, Deputy Director, Criminal Justice Policy and Legislation Division, Moira Doherty, Deputy Director, Justice Delivery Directorate, and Robert Crawford, Deputy Director, Access to Justice Directorate, Department of Justice joined the meeting at 3.27 p.m.

The officials briefed the Committee on the key Department of Justice commitments in the draft Programme for Government.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as whether there is a need to include services to victims and witnesses as a priority in the Programme for Government; how the priority for tackling crime against older and vulnerable people would be taken forward; the relationship between the draft PfG and the Policing Plan; the inclusion of Review of Access to Justice actions while the consultation on the report was not completed; whether the actions in relation to the implementation of the Youth Justice Review should be included under the heading “Reduce the level of serious crime” or be moved to another part of the document; how some of the actions, particularly in relation to reducing violent crime levels, would be measured; and the lack of references to community policing, tackling anti-social behaviour and reducing avoidable delay.

3.44 p.m. Mr McCartney left the meeting.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to key stakeholders requesting a copy of any response they submitted to the consultation on the draft PFG to assist consideration of the issue.

7. Briefing on the Northern Ireland Prison Service draft Employability Strategy 2013-2016

Max Murray, Director of Offender Services, Jonathan McNaught, Employment and Skills Manager and Carol Carser, Head of Learning and Skills, Hydebank Wood, joined the meeting at 3.51 p.m.

The officials briefed the Committee on the NI Prison Service draft employability strategy and the consultation that had taken place so far.

4.00 p.m. Mr McCartney rejoined the meeting.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as the percentage of prisoners using the vocational training facilities; the dependency of the strategy on the delivery of the SEE programme; how the strategy would be tailored to different prisons and different categories of prisoners; the need for an analysis of what skills would be required for future employment; the challenge presented by the current economic climate; and the  definition of a “Social Firm.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

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

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the proposed consultation exercise to take place and to consider the issue further when the results of the consultation were available.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request an update on the dispute at Roe House, HM Prison Maghaberry and the current position regarding the implementation of the August 2010 agreement.

8. Response from the Police Ombudsman regarding the oral evidence given to the Committee for Justice on 8 September 2011

The Committee noted a response from the Police Ombudsman to the Committee’s request for clarification regarding his evidence to the Committee meeting on 8 September 2011 in relation to the Criminal Justice Inspection report into the independence of the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the matter should be scheduled for consideration at a future meeting.

9. SL1 - Civil Legal Aid Reform: Proposals for Statutory Charge and Miscellaneous Amendments to the Legal Aid (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1965

The Committee noted further information from the Department of Justice in relation to proposals for a Statutory Rule to make changes to the legislation which allows the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission to recover the costs of legal aid in certain cases by means of a Statutory Charge and what safeguards are applied by the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission before any legal aid costs are recovered by enforcement of a Statutory Charge.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the matter should be scheduled for consideration at a future meeting.

10. Joint SL1: The Building Society Insolvency Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012 and the Building Society Special Administration Rules (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee considered proposals for two Statutory Rules to make provision in relation to the procedures to be followed if a building society was undergoing the Building Society Insolvency Procedure or, the Building Society Special Administration Procedure.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek the views/comments of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment on the proposed Statutory Rules given the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment had substantive responsibility for insolvency matters.

11. SL1 – The Valuation Tribunal (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice regarding the request from the Committee for the Environment, which the Committee had supported, that a time limit on the appeal process should be incorporated into the proposed Statutory Rule.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek the views/comments of the Committee for the Environment given the Department of Justice was not minded to make the amendment.

12. The draft Crown Court (Amendment No 2) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011, the draft County Court (Amendment No 3) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011 and the draft Magistrates’ Court (Amendment No 2) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Committee considered three Court Rules which made a number of amendments to Special Measures Procedures to take account of amendments made to the special measures provisions in the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 by the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 and which the Minister of Justice was minded to allow. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed Court Rules.

13. The Magistrates’ Courts (Banning Orders) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011 and the Criminal Appeal (Prosecution Appeals)  (Banning Orders) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Committee considered two Court Rules which relate to the implementation of the banning order provisions in the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 and which the Minister of Justice was minded to allow. 

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed Court Rules.

14. Proposals to consult on the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (PACE): Revision to Codes of Practice (2007 Edition)

The Committee considered proposals by the Department of Justice to consult on revisions required to some Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (PACE) Codes of Practice.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation to take place and to consider the issue further when the results of the consultation were available.

15.  The 2007 Hague Convention on International Recovery of Child Support and Other Types of Family Maintenance - Proposals to Implement and update on Proposal for European Procedure for Freezing Bank Accounts in Civil Proceedings with a Cross-Border Element

The Committee noted proposals by the Department of Justice to implement the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and other forms of Family Maintenance and an update on the EU proposal for a European procedure for freezing bank accounts in legal proceedings with a cross-border element. 

16. Correspondence

i. The Committee noted a letter from the Minister of Justice regarding the Part Time Reserve Gratuity Scheme and Threat assessments/SPED applications.

ii.  The Committee noted an invitation from the Minister of Justice to the Youth Justice Agency’s Annual Carol Service and presentation of achievement awards on Thursday 15 December 2011.

iii. The Committee further information provided by the Department of Justice in relation to the Inquiry into the experiences of victims and witnesses of the Criminal Justice System.

iv. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice on the launch of a consultation on the provision of Victim Impact Statements and Victim Impact Reports.

v. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request for further information on the Organised Crime Task Force Strategy.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Lord Chief Justice regarding differences in sentencing in relation to fuel laundering between Northern Ireland and England and Wales.

vi. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request for further information on the consequences for Northern Ireland of the application of the EU Framework Decision on mutual recognition of judgements and probation decisions.

vii.  The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding proposals to consult on the Lord Chancellor’s Proposals to devolve the administration of tribunals to Northern Ireland and Scotland.

viii. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request for further information regarding the Prison Service Pay Review Body (PSPRB).

ix. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister regarding the Children and Young People’s Strategy Outcomes Model.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Department of Justice to ascertain its level of awareness of the model.

x. The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Employment and Learning regarding educational courses at HM Prison Maghaberry.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice to request the information for the Committee for Employment and Learning.

xi. The Committee considered correspondence from a Mr Hetherington regarding a retrospective injury on duty award.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Policing Board given its responsibility for the matter.

xii.  The Committee noted a briefing paper provided by PlayBoard NI entitled “Making Connections through Play”.

xiii.  The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development providing the timescales for the Reservoirs Bill.

xiv. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice providing clarification of information given during the briefing on the Northern Ireland Prison Service Exit Scheme on 10 November 2011.

xv. The Committee noted the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt Report on the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service Investment Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2011.

xvi. The Committee noted an invitation from the British Psychology Society and the Division of Forensic Psychology to a lecture by entitled “Pathways to Justice” on Tuesday 13 December 2011 in Parliament Buildings.

The Committee noted correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel indicating that the Damages (Asbestos Related Conditions) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 would be commenced on 14 December 2011.

17.  Chairman’s Business

i. The Chairman outlined the role of the Committee for Justice in relation to a recently published Public Accounts Committee report on Managing Criminal Legal Aid.

ii.  The Chairman informed Members that the Justice Committee Inquiry would feature in an internet programme on the work of the Assembly being developed by the Communications Office.

iii.  The Chairman advised Members that he intended to send Christmas Cards to the Committee’s key Criminal Justice organisations.

18.  Any other business

The Committee discussed a proposal to visit prisons in England and Wales examine good practice in the provision of health/mental health and educational services and to see a private sector facility.   

Agreed: The Committee agreed that a proposal for such a visit, to include a visit to a Witness Care Unit in connection with the Committee Inquiry should be prepared for further consideration.

19. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will take place on Thursday 15 December at 2.00 p.m. in the Millennium Forum, Londonderry.

4.39 pm. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
15 December 2011

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