COMMITTEE FOR JUSTICE
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
THURSDAY, 17 JUNE 2010
SENATE CHAMBER, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS
Lord Morrow MLA (Chairman)
Mr Raymond McCartney MLA (Deputy Chairman)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA
Mr Tom Elliott MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Conall McDevitt MLA
Mr David McNarry MLA
Mr Alastair Ross MLA
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)
Mr John O’Dowd MLA
The meeting commenced at 2.18 p.m. in public session.
Apologies are detailed above.
2. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 3 June 2010
Agreed: The Committee approved the draft minutes of the meeting of 3 June 2010.
2.22 p.m. Mr Bell joined the meeting.
3. Chairs Business
The Committee noted an up-dated Forward Work Programme covering the period up to summer recess.
2.30 p.m. Mr Elliott joined the meeting.
The Chairman advised Member that, given the low turn-out at the visit to the Probation Board, he would consider the approach that should be adopted for future visits and informal meetings.
4. Matters arising
i The Committee noted that the research briefing on the European Commission Work Programme 2010 and relevant justice issues had been rescheduled and would now take place at the meeting on 1 July.
ii The Committee notedthat a meeting would take place on Monday 21 June at 1.00 p.m. in Room 135 when the Minister of Justice would provide a briefing on the current security situation and the recent murder of Mr Bobby Moffett.
iii The Committee considered a paper by the Clerk to the Committee on the Public Prosecution Service and accountability arrangements.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Committee on Procedures outlining the points covered in the Clerks paper.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Minister of Justice outlining the views of the Committee and asking to be kept informed of his discussions with the Attorney General and the First Minister and deputy First Minister on the issues.
Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Chairman should liaise on an on-going basis with the Chairman of the Committee on Procedures on matters of the accountability of the Public Prosecution Service and keep the Committee informed of developments.
iv The Committee noted that the Attorney General would attend the meeting on 1 July to outline his responsibilities.
v The Committee notedan Action Plan by the Prison Service in response to the Prisoner Ombudsman’s report into separated accommodation in Roe House, Maghaberry Prison.
The Committee also noted a press release by the Prisoner Ombudsman in relation to the publication of her annual report.
vi The Committee noted correspondence from the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service regarding information on the Legal Aid Reform proposals and very high cost cases.
vii The Committee noted a record of the informal meeting with the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association.
The press release by the Legal Services Commission providing details of solicitors firms and barristers who earned most from Legal Aid was raised.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request further information including why the change of policy in relation to publishing the names of barristers and the reason for publishing the information at that particular time.
5. Briefing by Assembly Researchers on Legal Aid - A Country Comparison
Tim Moore, Senior Assembly Researcher and Ryan Molloy, Assembly Researcher joined the meeting at 2.45 p.m.
Tim Moore and Ryan Molloy, outlined the key points in their research paper, Legal Aid – A Country Comparison and answered questions from Members.
The Chairman thanked Mr Moore and Mr Molloy for the briefing and they left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request that more up-to-date figures.
Agreed: The Clerk should identify other useful areas of research in relation to Legal Aid in conjunction with the Senior Researcher.
6. SL1 – Reform of Legal Representation (by way of Legal Aid) – proposals to make a Statutory Rule to regulate the circumstances where the court can assign two counsel to a defendant in a Crown Court case
David Lavery, Director of Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service (NICTS) and Robert Crawford, John Halliday and Padraig Cullen, Public Legal Services Division, NICTS, joined the meeting at 3.08 p.m.
The officials provided a briefing on the proposals to make a Statutory Rule to regulate the circumstances where the court can assign two counsel to a defendant in a Crown Court case and answered questions from Members on a range of issues including: the need for an equality impact assessment; responses to the consultation exercise, issues arising from similar proposals introduced in England and Wales some years ago; the criteria to be met under the proposed regulations; and the decision making mechanisms.
Alban Maginness placed on record a declaration of interest in relation to his occupation as a barrister.
The Chairman thanked the Director of the NI Courts and Tribunals Service and the officials for the briefing and they left the meeting.
4.15 p.m. Mr Elliott left the meeting.
4.19 p.m. Ms Ní Chuilín left the meeting.
4.19 p.m . Mr McNarry left the meeting.
The Committee agreed to postpone agenda item 7 until a later date.
7. Briefing by Representatives of the Law Society of Northern Ireland on Legal Aid Reform proposals
Norville Connolly, President of the Law Society for Northern Ireland, Alan Hunter, Chief Executive of the Law Society and Pearse McDermott, member of the Executive Committee of the Solicitors Criminal Bar Association joined the meeting at 4.20 p.m.
Mr Connolly, Mr Hunter and Mr McDermott outlined the Law Society’s perspective on the current Legal Aid proposals and answered questions from Members on issues including; the role of Solicitor Advocates; the Legal Services Commission’s information on the highest earners of Legal Aid; the proposals to regulate the assigning of two counsel in the Crown Court; the Law Society’s proposals for reducing the Legal Aid bill; and the current level of fees.
4.35 p.m. Mr Elliott rejoined the meeting.
4.36 p.m. Mr McNarry rejoined the meeting.
4.56 p.m. Mr Ross left the meeting.
5.38 p.m. Mr McNarry left the meeting.
The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.
The Chairman thanked Norville Connolly, Alan Hunter and Pearse McDermott for the briefing and they left the meeting.
8. Briefing by Representatives of the Bar Council on Legal Aid Reform proposals
Adrian Colton QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, Mark Mulholland, Vice Chairman, Brendan Garland, Chief Executive of the Bar Council and Gerarda Campbell, Young Bar’s representative on the Bar Council joined the meeting at 5.40p.m.
Adrian Colton, Mark Mulholland, Brendan Garland and Gerarda Campbell provided a briefing on the proposed Legal Aid and answered questions from Members on a range of issues including the proposals to regulate the assigning of two counsel in the Crown Court; Very High Cost Cases (VHCC) and the Bar Council’s proposals to reduce costs; the Legal Services Commission’s information on the highest earners of Legal Aid payments and the reasons for withholding Barristers names and comparisons between the courts systems in Northern Ireland and England and Wales.
The evidence session was recorded by Hansard.
The Chairman thanked Adrian Colton, Mark Mulholland, Brendan Garland and Gerarda Campbell and they left the meeting.
Agreed: The Committee agreed, with one amendment, a press release regarding its briefings from representatives of the Law Society and the Bar Council on Legal Aid Reform.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice seeking comments on the range of issues raised by the Law Society and the Bar Council in relation to the Legal Aid Reform proposals.
7.06 p.m. Mr McCartney left the meeting.
i The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding funding for Desertcreat College.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Minister of Justice and to the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety requesting to be kept informed on this matter.
ii The Committee considered correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding the police injury award decisions.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Justice requesting further information in relation to appeals and to the Policing Board seeking clarification regarding the rationale for the policy not to back date payments in relation to successful appeal decisions.
iii The Committee noted correspondence for the Department of Justice enclosing a Tribunals Modernisation Strategy and Action Plan.
iv The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding information requested by the Committee about External Advisers .
v The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice regarding issues arising from the June Monitoring round proposals. Further clarification, if required, would be sought at the budget briefing scheduled for the meeting on 24 June.
vi The Committee noted correspondence from the Department of Justice enclosing the Legal Services Commission’s list of the earning figures for the highest earning solicitors firms and barristers for 2008/09 and 2009/10.
vii The Committee noted correspondence from the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland enclosing 2 reports by the Inspectorate.
viii The Committee noted correspondence from the Public Prosecution Service enclosing a copy of the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland 2010/2011 Action Plan.
ix The Committee noted c orrespondence from the Clerk to the Committee for Finance and Personnel regarding the September 2010 Monitoring Round and indicative timetable for forthcoming Budget 2010 process
x The Committee noted c orrespondence from the Committee for Social Development on the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward the correspondence to the Department of Justice.
xi The Committee considered responses from other Assembly Committees on the Tribunal Service Reform Programme.
Agreed: The Committee agreed to refer the responses received to the Department of Justice.
xii The Committee noted a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the Prison Service briefing paper supplied to the Committee at its meeting on 13 May 2010.
xiii The Committee noted an invitation from Dawn Purvis MLA, Chair of the All Party Group on Children and Young People to a Seminar on Children’s Budgeting on Thursday, 24 June 2010 at 12 noon.
xiiii The Committee noted an invitation from the Law Centre (NI) and University of Ulster School of Law to a conference on Advancing Tribunal Reform on Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Agreed: The Committee agreed to request that an Assembly Researcher attend this event and prepare a paper for the Committee.
xv The Committee noted an invitation to a reception to celebrate all of the organisations and groups that have taken part in the Intercultural Achievement Awards in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings on Tuesday 22 June at 12.30pm.
xvi The Committee noted an invitation to the launch of the Fearless brand by the Crimestoppers Trust, which allows young people to learn about crimes that affect them, on 23 June at 12.00pm in the Ulster Museum.
11. Any Other Business
12. Date and Time of next Meeting
The next meeting will be held on Monday 21 June 2010 at 1.00 p.m. in Room 135 Parliament Buildings.
7.09 p.m. The Chairman adjourned the meeting.
Lord Morrow of Clougher Valley MLA
Chairman, Committee for Justice
24 June 2010