Northern Ireland Assembly: Executive Committee Business: Justice Bill: Final Stage (23 March 2011)
This is a very good example of collaboration and co-operation between the Minister and the Justice Committee, and also a good example of opposition by the Justice Committee on some provisions of the Bill. That is not in any way contradictory. There is a synergy born of opposition and collaboration. That goes to make good legislation or, as the Minister might prefer, to make good legislation even better. It depends on where you are coming from.
Serving on the Justice Committee has been a considerable experience for all of us. When the Committee was set up in the first instance, I felt that it might not be a great experience. However, it has proven to be a good experience for all of us on the Committee individually and collectively. I want to pay tribute to the Chairperson, Lord Morrow, and to the Deputy Chairperson, Raymond McCartney, both of whom discharged their duties in a fair and hard-working manner.
However, there were differences of opinion, as there always will be in politics. There are some reservations that I have on the Bill even yet. I regret, for example, that we did not address, timely and effectively, the issues of sex-offender notification, the register and dealing with the whole issue of the decision by the Supreme Court on the right of review. That was unfortunate, and we should have dealt with it.
The merger of district policing partnerships with community safety partnerships was welcome, and I hope that they will work well in the future and, at the same time, retain the essence of Patten’s view on the policing partnerships, which he saw as a very important element in making policing acceptable and accountable to local communities. That strengthened the Bill, and it is important that that is part and parcel of it. I wish those new policing and community safety partnerships well. There is a lot of work to be done, but there will be a lot of benefit to local communities and to policing as a result of that merger.
We have been innovative with alternatives to prosecution. I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward those alternatives, because they will keep people out of the criminal justice system, at least at an early stage. Hopefully, people will mend their ways as a result of those alternatives to prosecution.
The provisions on sports matches are good. Amendments were made that reflected very fairly the views of sporting organisations, particularly Ulster Rugby and the IFA. Those were good amendments that were made by the Committee.
I am concerned about clause 80. I am not sure whether the clause number has been rejigged in the Bill, but it is the clause about eligibility for criminal legal aid. We have to look very carefully at the subordinate legislation that will arise out of that. The power to introduce that is a good and proper one and should be supported by all. However, we have to look very carefully at the subordinate legislation to make sure that access to justice is guaranteed to those most in need of legal representation.
I welcome the provisions on rights of audience for solicitors. Again, the good work of the Committee and the fact that the Minister listened to the Committee brought about an improvement whereby those who will become solicitor advocates will have the proper experience and training at their disposal.
It is regrettable that the firearms clauses were introduced so late in the day. There is a lesson for us to learn: we should not rush legislation but should take time over it and scrutinise it as carefully as we can, particularly legislation on something as sensitive as firearms. However, we have learnt that lesson, and I hope that the Assembly will take it on board in the future.
Finally, I congratulate the Minister on his hard work on the Bill. I also congratulate the officials in the Department, who worked very hard and were almost a permanent feature at the Committee. I also thank the Committee officials, namely the Committee Clerk and those who assisted her in the Committee’s work. Without that work, the Committee would not have been able to do its job as well as it did.