Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 08 March 2012

The meeting commenced at 2.02 p.m. in public session.

1.        Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2.        Draft minutes of the meeting held on 1 March 2012

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 1 March 2012.

3.        Matters Arising

i.            The Committee noted that the evidence session with the Judicial Appointments Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, planned for today’s meeting, had been rescheduled to the meeting on 29 March due to unforeseen circumstances. 

ii.            The Committee noted that the legal advice requested on judicial independence would be available for the meeting on 22 March. 

iii.            The Committee considered a paper outlining the current position in relation to the Review of Judicial Appointments.

Agreed:           The Committee agreed that no further oral evidence sessions, apart from those already scheduled, were required.

Agreed:           The Committee agreed that the written submissions received in relation to the Review should be placed on the Committee webpage.

Agreed:           The Committee agreed that a briefing on the amendments made to the judicial appointments process by Schedules 2 to 5 of the NI Act 2009 should be arranged. 

2.05 p.m. Mr McCartney joined the meeting.

iv.            The Committee noted the arrangements for an informal meeting with a family in relation to the Victims and Witnesses Inquiry.

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

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, Chairman of the NI Judicial Appointments Commission, Edward Gorringe, Chief Executive, NI Judicial Appointments Commission, Ruth Laird, Lay Commissioner, NI Judicial Appointments Commission and Laurene McAlpine, Principal Private Secretary in the Lord Chief Justice’s Office joined the meeting at 2.07 p.m.

The Lord Chief Justice briefly outlined the Commission’s views on the current arrangements for Judicial Appointments and Removals in Northern Ireland.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues such as the possible impact of moving the work of NIJAC into the Lord Chief Justice’s Office with support from HR Connect; the role of the Lay Commissioners in NIJAC and their appointment process; how the merit principle is applied and what it means; the impact of the 2009 Act on how Judges to the Court of Appeal are appointed; the range of processes used in the appointment of judges; what role the Legislature could play in the judicial appointments process; the lack of women representative in senior judicial posts and the reasons for this; the role of the Judicial Appointments Ombudsman in the process; the roles of the Prime Minister and NIJAC in the future appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal; the length of time appointment competitions take; the process for setting the number of judges in Northern Ireland and the current number of High Court vacancies; and what accountability the present system provides.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the Lord Chief Justice and the other representatives and they left the meeting.

5.    Up-date on the NI Prison Service Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme

Ronnie Armour, Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development, Jane McBratney, Head of Resourcing, Roger Downey, Head of Financial Planning, and Michael Cowan, Staff Exit Unit, NI Prison Service joined the meeting at 3.20 p.m.

Mr Givan declared an interest as a family member is an employee of the NI Prison Service.

The Committee noted correspondence from a Prison Officer raising issues in relation to the Prison Service Exit Scheme.

The officials up-dated the Committee on the position in relation to the Prison Service Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues such as the proposed handling of tax requirements in relation to payments under the voluntary Early Retirement Scheme and how this contrasted to information provided to the Committee during an earlier briefing; the financial impact for individuals leaving during this financial year rather than the next financial year; what the criteria was for deciding the successful applicants and how the criteria was applied; whether applications could now be withdrawn if an officer had not received a leaving date; the impact on officers who have not received a leaving date in terms of their future plans, using up annual leave etc.; the likely impact on morale within the Service; the role of the trade unions in the package negotiations; what mechanism in place for officers to question the decision made in their individual case; the lack of a timescale in which other applicants may be allowed to leave the Service; the ability of retiring officers to apply for Custody Officer posts and the legal advice upon which the position is based;  what impact there will be on the overall reform programme from the handling of the exit scheme; and the likely impact of the new civil service pension arrangements on those officers who have not received a leaving date.

4.44 p.m. Mr Maginness left the meeting.

The officials agreed to provide the Committee with the legal advice regarding the ability of Prison Officers taking the Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme package to apply for the Custody Officer posts. 

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the officials and they left the meeting.

Agreed:            The Committee agreed to invite the Prison Officers’ Association to brief the Committee on the Prison Service Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme and the Prison Service Efficiency and Effectiveness Programme and wider Reform Programme.

Agreed:            The Committee agreed to request that the Minister of Justice exercise flexibility/discretion in relation to the Prison Service Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme tax issue.

Agreed:            The Committee agreed to write to the NI Prison Service regarding the provision of wrong information to the Committee.

6.    Revised draft consultation document on the Future Operation of the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland

The Committee considered further revisions to the draft consultation document on the Future Operation of the Office of the Police Ombudsman which had been made by the Department of Justice in response to issues raised by Members on 23 February. The Committee noted the further changes.

The Committee noted a response from the Minister of Justice to a request for sight of the legal advice the Police Ombudsman had shared with the Department of Justice.

Agreed:           The Committee agreed to consider the response from the Minister of Justice at the meeting on 22 March 2012. 

7.    SL1 – The Valuation Tribunal (Amendment No.2) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Committee considered proposals to make a Statutory Rule to regulate the practice and procedures for appeal proceedings before the Northern Ireland Valuation Tribunal in relation to building completion notices.

Agreed:           The Committee agreed to write to the Committee for Finance and Personnel for its views/comments on the proposed Statutory Rule.

8.     SL1 – The Prison Service (Pay Review Body) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012

The Committee considered proposals to make a Statutory Rule to allow the Department of Justice to make directions to the Prison Service Pay Review Body (PSPRB) as to the considerations to which they are to have regard and to require the PSPRB to send any report made by it to the Department of Justice and lay it in the Assembly.

4.58 p.m. Mr Maginness rejoined the meeting.

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

9.    Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014

The Committee considered proposals from the Minister of Justice to extend to Northern Ireland, by way of a Westminster Order, a ticket touting offence regarding tickets for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.  

Agreed:           The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposal that a new ticket touting offence regarding tickets for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games is established in Northern Ireland by way of a Westminster Order.

5.02 p.m. Mr Wells left the meeting.

10.    The Early Release of a Prisoner from HM Prison Maghaberry

The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice highlighting that, as a result of administrative errors by the NI Courts and Tribunals Service a defendant had been released from HM Prison Maghaberry having served a sentence of 3 months rather than 6 months.  The Committee noted the case was being relisted before the County Court for consideration.

Agreed:           The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice expressing grave concern that further administrative errors had occurred in the Court Service and requesting an explanation of what is being done to rectify the situation and ensure that it does not happen again. 

11.              Correspondence

i. The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to a Ms Douglas regarding conditions within Northern Ireland Prisons and specifically H.M. Prison Maghaberry.

ii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the Northern Ireland Prison Service Change Manager stepping down from his role for personal reasons.

iii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission regarding the appointment of a new County Court Judge.

iv. The Committee noted the National Statistics Bulletin 1/2012 entitled ‘Perceptions of Crime: Findings from the 2010/2011 Northern Ireland Crime Survey’.

v. The Committee noted the Youth Justice Agency Statistical Bulletin 1/2012: Provisional Workload Statistics: April – December 2011.

vi. The Committee noted an invitation from NIACRO to the 3rd Justice Series 2011-12 seminar on Reforming Prisons: Achieving Change? on 13 March 2012.

vii.     The Committee noted a response from the Minister for Justice in relation to its views/comments on the draft Programme for Government 2011-15.

viii.     The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Finance and Personnel regarding the monitoring and reporting arrangements in relation to the Programme for Government.

Agreed:         The Committee agreed to request a copy of the Department of Justice delivery plan as soon as it is available.          

12.    Chairman’s Business

The Committee considered correspondence from the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development, following a meeting between the Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen, requesting information on how much funding is being targeted specifically at rural crime by the Community Safety Partnerships.

Agreed:           The Committee agreed to request information on how much funding is being targeted specifically at rural crime by the Community Safety Partnerships from the Department of Justice.

13.    Any other business

The issue of representation from the Department of Justice on the cross departmental working group on wild fires was raised.   

Agreed:            The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice requesting information on the level of involvement of departmental officials or representatives of criminal justice agencies/related bodies on this working group.   

5.13 p.m. Mr McCartney left the meeting.

14.    Date and time of next meeting

The Committee will visit the Witness Care Unit in Bradford on Thursday 15 March therefore the next meeting will take place on Thursday 22 March at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

5.14 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
22 March 2012

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