Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 23 June 2011

Venue: Room 30

The meeting commenced at 1.32 p.m. in public session.

1. Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 16 June 2011

The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting held on 16 June 2011 .

3. Matters Arising

i. The Committee considered a request from the Bar Council to up-date members and clarify the current position in relation to the introduction of the new rules governing representation in Crown Court cases.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite representatives of the Bar Council to attend a formal Committee meeting. The Committee also agreed to extend an invitation to the Law Society to do likewise.

1.37 p.m. Mr Anderson joined the meeting.

ii. The Committee considered a revised version of the draft consultation document on the implementation of the Policing and Community Safety Partnerships submitted by the Department of Justice in response to issues raised at the previous meeting.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request a further amendment to the question on page 17 seeking views on “how the appointment process for the appointment of independent members to PCSPs could be improved further” by adding the words “and made more cost effective”.

iii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister of Justice regarding a number of reports on the Office of the Police Ombudsman due to be published on which he would come to the Committee to discuss.

4. Oral briefing on the current position in relation to the Legal Aid Dispute

David Ford, Minister of Justice, David Lavery, Director, NI Courts and Tribunals Service and Robert Crawford, Head of Public Legal Services Division joined the meeting at 1.41 p.m.

The Minister of Justice informed the Committee of the death in custody of a prisoner in Maghaberry Prison, the evening before and advised that early indications suggested there was no sign of suspicious circumstances.

The Minister of Justice up-dated the Committee on the current position in relation to the legal aid dispute and the options he was considering to ensure access to justice was available for defendants.

1.52 p.m. Mr McCrea joined the meeting.

1.56 p.m. Mr Dickson joined the meeting.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including the legal aid budget and the impact of the Barnett consequentials; the option of employing public defenders and what if any legislation would be required; the allegations that solicitors were being pressurised not to take on cases at the new rates; the impact of the dispute on access to justice for defendants; the advice provided on the likely impact of the introduction of the new reduced fees; the planned meeting between departmental officials and representatives of the Bar Council and the Law Society regarding the proposed early review; possible mechanisms to speed up the review of the new rates and the need to find a speedy solution.

2.15 p.m. Mr Wells joined the meeting.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked Mr Crawford for the briefing and he left the meeting.

Jacqui Durkin, Head of Business Operations, and Peter Luney, Deputy Head of Business Planning joined the meeting at 2.26 p.m.

The Minister of Justice briefed the Committee on the findings of the NI Courts and Tribunals Service Review of Court Orders made in Sexual Offences Cases.

A question and answer session followed covering issues such as how the issues outlined in the review were being addressed; the reasons for the high level of cases in which no disqualification orders were made by the court or reasons given for not making the order; the nature of Judicial training provided; the need for an integrated records system; where responsibility sat for detecting errors; the introduction of checklists for use by Judges in such cases by the Lord Chief Justice; and the need to address the issues immediately to ensure the risk to children is minimised.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the Minister of Justice and his officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.

The Committee considered a draft press release on the Review of Court Orders in Sexual Offences Cases.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the press release should issue.

5. Oral briefing by the Prisoner Ombudsman on the Report into the Death in Custody of Allyn Baxter

Pauline McCabe, Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, and Sinead Simpson, Director of Operations, Office of the Prisoner Ombudsman joined the meeting at 3.07 p.m.

The Prisoner Ombudsmanbriefed the Committee on the findings of her report into the death in custody of Allyn Baxter.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including the impact of the broken light and the subsequent delay in identifying the cell; the issue of relevant information not be requested and available information not being shared with relevant staff; what progress if any was being made to improve the regime for vulnerable prisoners;

3.22 p.m. Mr Wells left the meeting.

The response of the Director General of the Prison Service to the concerns raised in the Ombudsman’s report; the impact of staff shortages on prison lock downs; the concern that action taken in response to previous recommendations had not delivered change on the ground; and the need for a more holistic approach and fundamental change as outlined in the Prison Review interim report.

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

The Chairman thanked the Prisoner Ombudsman and her official for the briefing and they left the meeting.

The meeting was suspended at 3.37 p.m.

The meeting resumed at 3.40 p.m. in public session.

Present:
Mr Paul Givan MLA (Chairman)
Mr Sydney Anderson MLA
Mr Stewart Dickson MLA
Mr Sean Lynch MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Ms Jennifer McCann MLA
Mr Basil McCrea MLA

In Attendance:
Mrs Christine Darrah (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Roisin Donnelly (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Vincent Gribbin (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Joe Westland (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Kevin Marks (Clerical Officer)

6. Oral Briefing on proposals for a Policy Consultation on Fine Default in Northern Ireland

Gareth Johnston, Head of Justice Strategy Division, Peter Luney, Deputy Head of Business Planning, NI Courts and Tribunals Service and Tom Haire, Head of Criminal Law Branch joined the meeting at 3.40 p.m.

The officials briefed the Committee on proposals for a policy consultation on the issue of fine default in Northern Ireland and possible ways of improving the system.

3.47 p.m. Mr McCartney joined the meeting.

A question and answer session followed covering issues including the financial cost of imprisoning fine defaulters for short periods of time; the need to look at earnings capacity when considering options for collecting fines; the likely impact of proposals to deduct money from benefits; the need for more creative approaches including community service as an option instead of a fine; and the need for a comprehensive analysis of the profile of fine defaulters to better target alternative approaches.

3.56 p.m. Mr Maginness left the meeting.

Mr Anderson declared an interest as a member of Craigavon Council.

Mr Dickson declared an interest as a member of Carrickfergus Council.

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

The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.

Agreed: The Committee agreed it was content for the consultation to take place.

Agreed : The Committee agreed to ask the Department for a c omprehensive analysis of the profile of fine defaulters and highlight the need to consider more creative approaches such as having a community service option instead of a fine.

4.10 p.m. Mr McCrea left the meeting.

7. Briefing by Assembly Researcher on Comparative Research into Sentencing Guidelines Mechanisms

Fiona O’Connell, Assembly Researcher, joined the meeting at 4.11 p.m.

Fiona O’Connell outlined the key points in her research paper on comparative research into Sentencing Guidelines Mechanisms.

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

4.20 p.m. Ms McCann left the meeting.

8. Briefing on the responses to the Consultation on a Sentencing Guidelines Mechanism

Gareth Johnston, Head of Justice Strategy Division and Anne O’Connell, Criminal Policy Unit joined the meeting at 4.20 p.m.

4.26 p.m. Mr McCrea rejoined the meeting.

The officials briefed the Committee on the responses to the consultation on a Sentencing Guidelines Mechanism and answered questions on the range of responses received; the role envisaged for the Committee in relation to a Sentencing Guidelines Council or Sentencing Advisory Panel; and the development of the measures being introduced by the Lord Chief Justice.

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

The Committee noted that a briefing on the preferred option would be scheduled in the autumn.

4.33 p.m. The meeting moved into closed session.

9. Briefing on NI Prison Service Strategic Efficiency and Effectiveness (SEE) Programme

Colin McConnell, Director General of the NI Prison Service, Ronnie Armour, Director of Human Resources and Operational Development, Max Murray, Director of Offender Policy and Regimes and Graeme Wilkinson, Director of Finance and Corporate Services jointed the Committee at 4.34 p.m.

Mr McConnell briefed the Committee on the NI Prison Service Strategic Efficiency and Effectiveness (SEE) Programme which was due to be launched on 28 June 2011. Issues covered included the content of the programme, how the major change programme would be delivered and the likely difficulties.

5.20 p.m. The meeting moved into open session.

10. Timetable for commencement of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2011

The Committee noted the planned timetable for the commencement of the various provisions of the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 and the content of the first Commencement Order which would bring two groups of powers into effect on 5 July and 1 August 2011.

11. Northern Ireland Law Commission Work Programme 2011-2015

The Committee considered the proposals for the Northern Ireland Law Commission’s second programme of work covering the period 2011 – 2015.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request details of the other proposed projects that had not been included in the programme and further information on the proposed project on the Registration of Births and Acquisition of Parental Responsibility for unmarried fathers.

12. EU Justice and Home Affairs Legislative Programme

The Committee considered information on the current and proposed EU legislative proposals in Justice and Home Affairs matters.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it wished to see all EU Legislative proposals requiring a UK decision to opt in at the earliest opportunity and, as far as possible, before the Minister of Justice confirmed whether he agreed with the UK Government’s recommendation or not.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request further information on several EU legislative proposals currently under consideration.

Agreed : The Committee agreed to request further details of how the EU Directives that the UK had opted into would be taken forward in legislation and the timescale for each.

Agreed : The Committee agreed to request information on what measures the Department was taking to target/access EU Funding Streams and what engagement, if any, has had with the Barroso Taskforce.

Agreed : The Committee agreed to request information on what Justice Stakeholders had accessed or were involved in EU Funded Programmes.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request further information on the UK Government’s position with regard to Protocol 19 – Schengen Opt Out.

13. Committee Forward Work Programme and Priorities

The Committee discussed priority issues that it wished to take forward over the next 12 months.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to undertake a piece of work that would influence the key priorities for the new Strategy for Victims and Witnesses of Crime and the outcomes it should deliver.

14. Correspondence

i. The Committee noted correspondence from the Minister of Justice to Lord Armstrong, Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Draft Detention of Terrorist Suspects (Temporary Extension) Bills.

ii. The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice providing sick absence data for the Department of Justice to 31 March 2011.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request details of the initiatives and actions the Department of Justice intended to implement to reduce the sick absence levels.

iii. The Committee noted the NI Courts and Tribunals Service Business Plan for 2011/12.

iv. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice advising of a new type of community disposal in Scotland called a Community Payback Order and its transferability to other UK jurisdictions.

v. The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice providing an update its review of the statutory discount rate.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that a briefing on the results of the consultation should be scheduled in due course.

vi. The Committee considered correspondence from the Minister of Justice regarding his intention to enter into an Agency Arrangement with the Secretary of State that would enable him to exercise certain functions under the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request clarification of how and when the Minister of Justice would advise the Committee each time he intended to exercise these functions.

vii. The Committee noted Youth Justice Agency Statistical Bulletin 1/2011: ‘Northern Ireland Youth Re-Offending: Results from the 2007 Cohort’.

viii. The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice in response to a request raised by the Committee regarding whether it was possible for provisions to be brought forward in the proposed Compliance Bill to enable portable, updateable disclosures by AccessNl.

ix. The Committee noted further correspondence from a Mr Hammond regarding unresolved equal pay claims for PSNI support staff.

x. The Committee noted an invitation to a Queen’s University showcase Event in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings on Monday 27 June 2011.

xi. The Committee noted a Criminal Justice Inspection Report on Pre Sentence Reports.

15. Chairman’s Business

i. The Chairman advised members that he had accepted an invitation from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists to the launch of an e-learning tool and face to face training for those in the justice sector aimed at improving outcomes for offenders and those at risk of offending.

ii. The Chairman informed Members that he had received an invitation to meet with the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust and arrangements would be made for the meeting.

iii. The Chairman advised Members that during a meeting with Mr Moutray, the Chairman of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, to discuss the appropriate Committee to take forward the Review of the administrative arrangements for Judicial Appointments it was agreed that the decision taken by the two Committees at the end of the last mandate that it should be the Committee for Justice was the correct approach.

Mr Moutray had now written to advise that he would write to the Chairman of the Committee for Procedures to request that Standing Orders be amended accordingly.

16. Any Other Business

None.

17. Date and time of next meeting

The Chairman advised Members that, given the extra oral briefings that the Committee had agreed should be scheduled before summer recess, it was likely that an additional meeting would need to be held.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the Chairman would authorise the arrangements for an additional meeting if necessary.

The next meeting is currently scheduled for Thursday 30 June 2011 at 2.00 p.m. in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

5.41 p.m. The meeting was adjourned.

Mr Paul Givan MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
30 June 2011

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