Lord Morrow MLA (Chairman)
Mr Raymond McCartney MLA (Deputy Chairman)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA
Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP MLA
Mr Tom Elliott MLA
Mrs Delores Kelly MLA
Mr Alban Maguinness MLA
Mr David McNarry MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA
Mr John O’Dowd MLA
Mr Alastair Ross 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)
The Chairman welcomed the members to the first meeting of the Committee for Justice.
The meeting commenced at 2.03 pm in open session following the agreement of the Committee to hold the meeting in public.
Agreed: The evidence session with the Minister of Justice at agenda item 7 should be recorded by Hansard.
There were no apologies.
2. Committee Membership
The Committee noted details of the membership.
3. Introduction to Committee Staff
The Chairman introduced the Committee staff to members.
4. Arrangements for Committee Meetings
The Chairman outlined the proposed arrangements for committee meetings.
Agreed: Committee meetings would generally be held on Thursdays at 2.00 pm in Room 21, Parliament Buildings.
Agreed: The Committee should aim to hold some meetings outside Parliament Buildings at venues around Northern Ireland.
Agreed: Meetings should be held in public session unless there was a compelling reason to hold a meeting or part of a meeting in private, in which case the Chairman would seek the approval of the Committee.
The Committee also noted that all meetings held in public session would be broadcast around Parliament Buildings and recorded. The recording would be available on the committee web page within 24 hours of the meeting. The weekly agenda for committee meetings would be agreed by the Chairman and would be based on the longer-term work programme agreed by the Committee. Papers for each meeting would issue, as far as possible, on the preceding Monday and Minutes of Proceedings would be placed on the committee web page as soon as they were agreed by the Committee.
5. Declaration of Interests
The Chairman indicated that the relevant entry from the Members’ Register of Interests for each Committee Member had been circulated and would be attached to the Minutes of Proceedings of the meeting for the record.
In addition Mr Alban Maginness indicated he was a Board Member of the Prison Service Trust and Mr Jonathan Bell indicated that he would provide a copy of his up-dated entry in the Register of Members’ Interests before the next committee meeting.
6. Overview Briefing by the Minister of Justice on the main areas of responsibility and the key issues facing the Department of Justice
The Committee agreed that agenda item 7 would be considered next.
The Chairman advised members that a letter from the Minister of Justice to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister indicating his intention to initiate a review of the regime at Maghaberry Prison as an early priority had just been received prior to the meeting and copies were circulated to members. The Minister of Justice would discuss the proposed review during the briefing session.
The Minister of Justice, Mr David Ford MLA and the Permanent Secretary, Mr Nick Perry, joined the meeting.
The Minister and Permanent Secretary gave a presentation on the role and responsibilities and the key issues and challenges facing the Department of Justice and answered questions from Members on a range of issues including: the Department of Justice Budget; the separation of roles and responsibilities between the Minister of Justice and the Secretary of State; delays in the Criminal Justice System; improving services for victims; Legal Aid Reform; Prison Issues and the Minister’s intention to initiate an early review of the regime at Maghaberry Prison as part of the wider review of the conditions of detention, management and oversight of all prisons; and the security situation and on-going threat from dissident republicans.
During the question and answer session the Minister agreed to provide the Committee with information on the cost of keeping a prisoner, the on-going consultations being undertaken by the Department of Justice and clarification of his responsibilities and those of the Secretary of State in relation to prisoners detained at the Secretary of State’s Pleasure and those subsequently recalled having been released early on licence as a result of the Belfast Agreement.
The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.
2.35 pm Mr McNarry left the meeting.
2.37 pm Mr McNarry rejoined the meeting.
2.50 pm Mr McNarry left the meeting.
The Chairman thanked the Minister of Justice and the Permanent Secretary for the briefing and they left the meeting.
7. Committee Procedures
The Committee noted guidance papers on:
- The Powers and Operation of Statutory Committees
- The Role of the Chairperson
- The Role of the Committee Office
The Chairman drew the attention of Members to guidance on Privilege for committee members and the following was read into the record:
“Under Section 50 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, for the purposes of the law of defamation, absolute privilege applies equally to:
- the making of a statement in proceedings of the Assembly; and
- the publication of a statement under the Assembly’s authority.
The term ‘proceedings of the Assembly’ includes the work of committees. A report ordered to be published by a committee would attract absolute privilege, as the report would be published ‘under the Assembly’s authority’. However, it cannot be assumed that a press release agreed by the committee is covered by Assembly privilege. In relation to press conferences, even if members stick to the content of the press release, it is unlikely that an action for defamation could be defended on grounds of absolute privilege since the statement would not be made “in proceedings of the Assembly.”
Any statement given by a witness to a committee as part of its proceedings, whether in oral or in written form, is covered by privilege.”
The Committee noted a guidance paper on Providing an Effective Research Service to Committees and that Mr Tim Moore, Assembly Senior Research Officer and his team would be responsible for providing research services to the Committee for Justice.
Agreed: Committee for Justice research papers would automatically be published on the Assembly web site once presented to the Committee, unless the Committee decided otherwise.
The Committee noted the guidance paper on Handling Subordinate Legislation (Statutory Rules).
Agreed: The Committee for Justice resolves, under Standing Order 43, to delegate to the Examiner of Statutory Rules the technical scrutiny of statutory rules referred to the Committee under the above mentioned Standing Order.
The Committee further resolves that in carrying out this function the Examiner shall be authorised to report his technical findings on each statutory rule to the Assembly, through the Business Office, and to the relevant Department, as well as to the Committee itself and to publish his report.
3.35 pm Mr McNarry rejoined the meeting.
8. Draft Initial Committee Work Programme
The Committee considered an initial draft work programme covering the next four weeks.
Agreed: The proposed work programme for the next 4 week period was satisfactory.
Agreed: A briefing from the Chief Inspector of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate should be included in the Forward Work Programme at an early date.
Agreed: A further work programme covering the period up to summer recess and based on the issues the Committee wishes to address and matters that the Department of Justice intends to bring to the Committee be prepared for consideration at the meeting on 13 May.
9. Chairman’s Business
The Chairman advised members that he and the Deputy Chairman had held a short informal meeting with the Minister of Justice after his appointment. At the meeting the Minister had indicated his wish to develop and maintain a good working relationship between the Department and the Committee. The Minister had subsequently written to both the Chairman and Deputy Chairman and copies of the letters had been circulated for Members’ information.
- The Committee noted a letter from the Chief Inspector of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate, Dr Michael Maguire, offering a briefing to the Committee on the work of the Inspectorate. The Committee had already agreed that a briefing should be arranged.
- The Committee considered a memo from the Clerk to the Committee for Finance and Personnel seeking comments from all Statutory Committees on draft guidance on “engagement with committees” for inclusion in the 2010-11 in-year Monitoring Round process to be issued by the Department of Finance and Personnel.
Agreed: The Committee would write to the Committee for Finance and Personnel welcoming the guidance which highlighted the important role Assembly Committees play in the scrutiny of departmental spending plans and established the need for departments to ensure they engaged fully with their Assembly Committees in respect of the In-Year Monitoring Process.
Agreed: The Committee would write to the Department of Justice indicating that it wished to be consulted on proposals for bids or easements relating to the In-Year Monitoring Round Returns before they are finalised and submitted to the Department of Finance and Personnel.
- The Committee noted a memo from the Clerk to the Committee for Finance and Personnel seeking information on whether the Department of Justice would consider employing the services of the Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit (PEDU).
Agreed: The Committee would write to the Department of Justice seeking the information requested by the Committee for Finance and Personnel.
- The Committee considered a memo from the Clerk to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee referring correspondence from the Committee for the Environment regarding waste offences and the Northern Ireland Court Service. Members of the Environment Committee were disappointed that the Court Service databases only gathered information on the total number and amounts of unpaid fines and not the offences to which the fines relate to.
Agreed: The situation was unsatisfactory and the Committee would write to the Department of Justice asking that a system to provide detailed information on the offences to which unpaid fines relate to be introduced at the earliest opportunity.
11. Draft Press Release
The Committee considered a draft Press Release and the Chairman proposed an additional line should be included in relation to the announcement of the Minister of Justice’s intention to review the regime at Maghaberry Prison as part of the wider review of the conditions of detention, management and oversight of all prisons.
Agreed: The Press Release, as amended, should issue.
12. Any Other Business
13. Date and Time of next Meeting
The next meeting will be held on Thursday 29 April 2010 at 2.00 pm in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.
3.45 pm The meeting was adjourned