Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 06 October 2011
Venue: Room 30
Mr Colum Eastwood MLA
The meeting commenced at 2.07 p.m. in public session.
Apologies are detailed above.
2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 29 September 2011
The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 29 September 2011 .
3. Matters Arising
- The Committee considered a list of key stakeholders from which it was proposed to seek written evidence for the inquiry into the experiences of victims and witnesses of the criminal justice system and a draft press release to publicise the inquiry.
Agreed: The Committee agreed the list of key stakeholders from which written evidence would be sought and the letter to be issued.
Agreed: The Committee agreed a press release and noted that the Chairman would take part in a short video interview in relation to the inquiry for the Committee webpage.
- The Committee noted an up-dated Forward Work Programme for the period of October to December 2011.
- The Committee noted information in relation to the nominees for the “Justice in the Community” Awards due to take place on Wednesday 19 October in Parliament Buildings.
4. Research papers relating to the Review of Access to Justice
The Committee noted a number of research papers provided by Assembly Research Services on various aspects of criminal and civil legal aid and related access to justice issues in England and Wales and other jurisdictions that were relevant to the Review of Access to Justice.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to commission further research on the areas of family justice and procurement.
5. Briefing on the findings and recommendations of the final report of the Review of Access to Justice
Jim Daniell, Angela Ritchie and Kathryn McClements of the Review of Access to Justice Team joined the meeting at 2.12 p.m.
The Review Team outlined a number of key points in relation to the findings and recommendations contained in the report on the Access to Justice Review.
2.23 p.m. Mr Wells joined the meeting.
2.26 p.m. Mr Dickson joined the meeting.
A question and answer session followed covering issues including what in the Review Teams view were the priority areas that, if implemented, would make the biggest difference to the justice system; how alternative dispute resolution and mediation could be developed and encouraged; the limitations in drawing comparisons with other jurisdictions; how the quality of legal representation funded by legal aid could be measured; the need for an implementation plan and robust project management skills if change is to be progressed within an appropriate timescale; and the likely impact on the Legal Aid assessment office in Foyle of the recommendations to restructure.
2.47 p.m. Mr Maginness joined the meeting.
2.48 p.m. Mr Wells 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 request copies of the consultation responses from the Department of Justice to assist further consideration of the issues.
6. Briefing on the October Monitoring Round and up-date on final Savings Delivery Plans
Anthony Harbinson, Director of Justice Delivery, Department of Justice, Glynn Capper, Deputy Director, Finance and Sean Laverty, Head of Financial Planning and Control joined the meeting at 2.51 p.m.
The officials briefed the Committee on the October Monitoring Round and the final savings delivery plans for each spending area.
2.55 p.m. Mr McCrea joined the meeting.
A question and answer session followed covering issues such as the reasons why the savings delivery plans for a number of areas contained little or no detail; what the un-ringfenced Resource DEL technical budget consisted of; the reasons for the changes to the amounts in the Justice Delivery Directorate savings plan; the impact of the savings plan on the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust; the costs associated with the PSNI hearing loss claims and the strategy adopted for handling these.
3.20 p.m. Mr Weir left the meeting.
3.22 p.m. Mr Wells rejoined the meeting.
Mr Givan declared an interest in respect of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Staff Exit Scheme as a family member is an employee of the NI Prison Service.
The costs associated with the planned Northern Ireland Prison Service Staff Exit Scheme ; the amount of funding available for potential PSNI Equal Pay costs and how long this money would be available; the potential impact of the savings delivery plans on the Probation Board and delivery of its frontline services; the cost of the Desertcreat Training College.
During the evidence session the officials agreed to provide a breakdown of the £4.5million easements identified as part of the October Monitoring round.
The Chairman thanked the officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.
3.36 p.m. Mr Wells left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice on a number of questions relating to the saving delivery plans and October Monitoring Round.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request further information from the Probation Board on its savings delivery plan.
7. Briefing on an SL1 - Civil Legal Aid Reform: Proposals for Statutory Charge & Miscellaneous Amendments to the Legal Aid (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1965
Robert Crawford, Head of Public Legal Services Division, Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, Paul Andrews, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission and Sheila McPhilips, Director of Legal Services, Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission joined the meeting at 3.38 p.m.
3.20 p.m. Mr Weir rejoined the meeting.
The officials briefed the Committee on proposals for changes to the Statutory Charge & miscellaneous amendments to the Legal Aid (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1965.
A question and answer session followed covering issues such as the basis for the £3000 threshold exemption and why this was ended in Scotland and England and Wales; what the estimated £200,000 per annum savings would be used for; the likely impact of the proposals on cases involving the family home; the need for alternative resolution mechanisms to enable individuals to avoid court; the need for reform of NI family law; the likely impact of the proposed changes on vulnerable people particularly in the current economic climate; and how the proposed changes may impact on access to justice.
During the evidence session the officials agreed to provide further information on the safeguards to be put in place to avoid hardship through the introduction of the proposed changes.
4.10 p.m. Mr Wells rejoined the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to give further consideration to the proposed changes upon receipt of the additional information.
8. Draft consultation document on the Upper Age Limit for Jury Service
The Committee considered a draft consultation paper from the Department of Justice on the upper age limit for jury service.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation document to be published and to consider the issue when the results of the consultation were available.
9. Proposed UK-wide consultation on the methodology to be used in setting the Statutory Discount Rate
The Committee considered a proposal by the Department of Justice to consult on a joint UK- wide basis on the methodology to be used in setting the Statutory Discount Rate.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the consultation to take place on a joint UK-wide basis.
10. Terms and Conditions for Police Officers – Police Negotiating Board
The Committee considered handling arrangements proposed by the Department of Justice in relation to the process for the negotiation, consultation and implementation of changes to terms and conditions for police officers.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the proposed handling arrangements.
- The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to correspondence from the Committee for the Environment regarding Gorse Fires.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the response to the Committee for the Environment.
- The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister of Justice regarding the renewal of the Secretary of State’s Direction under Section 1A(7) of Prison Act (NI) 1953 as amended by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010.
- The Committee noted a response from the Department of Justice to its request for an up-date on the current position in relation to the August Agreement and the situation in Roe House, HM Prison Maghaberry.
- The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to its request for an up-date on the meeting between departmental officials and the PSNI to discuss unresolved equal pay claims on 5 August 2011.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Committee for Finance and Personnel for information and to Mr Hammond and other individuals who had written to the Committee on the matter.
- The Committee noted responses from the Department of Justice and the PSNI to its request for clarification in relation to potential changes to the arrangements for serving non-molestation orders.
- The Committee considered a response from the Department of Justice to its request for a review of the proposed reduction in funding from the NI Prison Service to CRUSE.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the response to CRUSE.
- The Committee noted correspondence from a Mr Hammond regarding the delay in payment of NICS Pay Awards to PSNI Civilian Staff.
- The Committee considered correspondence from NIPSA to the Minister of Justice regarding the pay and conditions of administrative staff in the Northern Ireland Probation Board.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice to request information on the current position in relation to the matter and the cause of the delay.
- The Committee noted an invitation from the Committee for Finance and Personnel to an event in the Long Gallery on 18 October 2011 on an Overview of the Public Expenditure System.
12. Chairman’s Business
The Chairman informed the Committee that he had met with the Chief Executive of Victim Support earlier in the week and took the opportunity to discuss the Committee Inquiry.
He advised Members that he had accepted an invitation to the Victim Support/NSPCC seminar on Tuesday 15 November in the Stormont Hotel on the experiences of children and adults of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland and encouraged other members to also attend.
13. Any Other Business
14. Date and time of next meeting
The next meeting will be held on Thursday 13 October 2011 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.
4.48 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.