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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today

    Easter Eggs

    That's all from Stormont for a while.

    The assembly's taking a break for a couple of weeks for the Easter recess.

    We'll be back in the assembly chamber on Monday 12 April with a full plenary meeting.

    Join us then, but in the meantime, don't eat all your Easter eggs in one go!

  2. 'Is there a chance we’re creating a later cliff edge?'

    Next up for discussion is the proposed response to the McCloud Judgement and Future Pension Reforms.as it applies to judges' pensions.

    Rachel Woods of the Green Party asks if it’s “quite normal” that the consultation received no responses.

    “I’m making assumptions here, because it’s such a narrow group of people affected,” says Paul Givan, he says perhaps people are content with the proposals.

    Paul Givan

    Turning to Mandatory Retirement Age for Devolved Judicial Office Holders in NI, Rachel Woods says there are more female Lay Magistrates than there are male.

    The Green Party MLA says there’s a need to ensure lay magistrates are representative of society.

    Linda Dillon of Sinn Féin chips in that “under equality legislation, we shouldn’t actually have in my view, or my party’s view, any upper age limit or minimum age limit in terms of retirement.”

    Sinead Bradley of the SDLP says she wonders if there is no recruitment and retirement age is extending, “is there a chance we’re creating a later cliff edge?”

  3. NI Fishermen 'short-changed' in fish quota

    Conor Macauley

    BBC News NI Agriculture and Environment Correspondent

    fishermen

    Northern Ireland's fishermen say they have been short-changed in a UK share-out of extra Brexit fish.

    They say they got only £14m of the £20m-a-year worth of additional quota they believe they were due.

    A spokesman for one of the two main fishing organisations, Alan McCulla, said Northern Ireland's Brexit fish dividend had been "plundered".

    He warned last week that the government intended to give the bulk of the Brexit fish to Scotland.

    Read more on this story here.

  4. 'Kicked into the long-grass'

    Paul Givan, the committee chair, thanks the departmental officials.

    He moves members to the next items of business.

    These include a brief discussion on the delegated powers memorandum relating to the Protection from Stalking Bill and the Department of Justice Draft Budget 2021-22.

    On the issue of a Places of Worship Protection Scheme for NI, Mr Givan says “my own view is this is being kicked into the long-grass”.

  5. 'Rules would need to be amended'

    “What is a contest fee?” asks Rachel Woods of the Green Party.

    It depends on the category of the offence, responds Ruth O Duinnín.

    The Justice Department official lists the price tags associated with each category.

    Rachel Woods

    Referring to the previous briefing on the Criminal Justice (Committal) Reform Bill, Ms Woods asks, would it impact legal aid?

    “Both Magistrates’ and Crown Court rules would need to be amended,” responds Stephen Martin.

    He says the bill would need to be settled before a lot more work can be conducted on this.

  6. Law Society didn't respond

    Paul Givan

    Paul Givan asks if the Law Society, the solicitors' representative body, responded to the proposals.

    Stephen Martin says he approached them on a number of occasions but the society didn't give a response.

    The Justice Department official says they will have an opportunity to respond at a later stage.

  7. 'Simplify the scheme'

    Stephen Martin from the Justice Department starts the briefing.

    In 2009, a fee approach was established regarding remuneration for publicly-funded defence representation for criminal proceedings in the Magistrates’ Court and for criminal appeals from the Magistrates’ Court to the County Court, he explains.

    The idea was that it would “simplify the scheme” in terms of submissions and processing of claims, he adds.

    officials

    Some aspects of the 2009 rules were revoked in 2014. These changes related to guilty plea fees and “very high cost cases” whilst also identifying extra costs.

    There has since been further amendments to the 2009 rules, such as those in 2016 which “proscribe hourly rates of payment where an application for a certificate of exceptionality is granted in an individual's case in order to undertake additional preparation work”.

    The recent review has “recommended four amendments to the 2009 rules,” explains the official.

    Three of the four proposals have financial implications and the anticipated implementation costs are around £100,000 per financial year.

  8. Review of the Magistrates’ Courts and County Court Appeals

    Paul Givan

    Paul Givan thanks Glyn Capper for his assistance.

    Next on the agenda is a briefing on the Second Statutory Review of the Magistrates’ Courts and County Court Appeals (Criminal Legal Aid) (Costs) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2009 - quite a mouthful.

    The Department of Justice officials who are going to explain all are Stephen Martin, Jill Trainor and Ruth O Duinnín.

  9. Should statutory time limits be considered?

    “Are we missing a trick by not adding something into this bill that will help and strengthen the advantages and the hope that it will speed up and smooth out the process?” asks Paul Frew of the DUP.

    Glyn Capper responds that there is a balance between putting enough cases through and not “swamping the system”.

    The Justice Department official says a key element to speeding-up proceedings in the system is culture.

    “We looked at statutory time limits and their operation in England and Wales and Scotland,” he adds.

    Paul Frew

    Laura Mallon, Mr Capper’s colleague, outlines the experience of other jurisdictions in relation to statutory time limits.

    “There is something there already that could potentially be used” in Northern Ireland, she says, but explains that to date it hasn't been.

  10. Distress faced over access to abortion services 'unacceptable'

    generic consultation picture

    It is unacceptable that women and girls in NI cannot access abortion services even though the law changed over a year ago, Brandon Lewis has said.

    The secretary of state told the House of Commons that he recognises that abortion is an "emotive" issue.

    But he added that too many women and girls are having to travel to other parts of the UK to access care.

    He said two women tried to take their own lives after being unable to travel to England from Northern Ireland.

    Read more on this story here.

  11. 'Direct committal won’t add extra work'

    Sinead Bradley

    “There’s no real speak of extra resources,” says Sinéad Bradley.

    The SDLP MLA asks for more clarification about references to a rebalance of resources.

    Glyn Capper says “direct committal won’t add extra work to the overall process of hearing a case”.

    The Department of Justice official adds that the bill would remove a step and “put a case straight to the Crown Court”.

  12. Moving, or stopping the case backlog

    Linda Dillon

    Committee deputy chair Linda Dillon of Sinn Féin asks about the potential for the case backlog moving to the Crown Court "rather than stopping".

    Glyn Capper from the Justice Department says designing "the right Crown Court rules" will be vital when moving to direct committal.

  13. 'A traumatic thing for victims'

    Paul Givan, the committee chair, starts with Clauses One and Two of the Bill.

    He asks about the restriction of evidence to technical or expert witnesses at committal stage.

    What would be the advantage, asks the DUP MLA?

    “We’ve tried to stay true to the Fresh Start recommendation of no oral evidence pre trial,” responds Glyn Capper from the Justice Department.

    Paul Givan

    The Fresh Start Agreement was made between the NI Executive and British and Irish governments in 2015 in response to a political crisis.

    Mr Capper says “it’s not just having to give oral evidence twice” but also “that notion of potentially having to give oral evidence at the committal hearing is also a traumatic thing for victims”.

    Turning to Clause Four of the Bill, Glyn Capper explains that it revolves around case management.

    He explains that stakeholders “from across the system” are included in discussions and are helping to design “Crown Court rules” which will explain the detail of how it will operate for Judges in practice.

  14. Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Bill briefing

    Glyn Capper

    Paul Givan takes the members to the next item by explaining that the committee commissioned two research papers - one on the removal or reform of the committal process in other jurisdictions, and the second on the statutory time limits applying to case proceedings in other jurisdictions.

    Glyn Capper begins an overview of the Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Bill.

    The bill aims to remove the need for oral evidence at the commital hearing, to get more cases more quickly to the Crown Court and addresses some technical issues to smooth the direct commital process.

    He says many supportive responses were made to the bill.

    Mr Capper then takes the members through some of the "key issues" raised by witnesses to the committee.

  15. What is the Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Bill?

    The issue of committal reform was part of the New Decade, New Approach agreement.

    The Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Bill was brought to the assembly by Justice Minister Naomi Long in November 2020.

    It has two main features, namely:

    • removing the option of calling survivors and victims to provide oral evidence in advance of trial
    • enabling certain cases to be moved to the Crown Court without having to go through the traditional committal process
  16. Committee opens to the public

    Paul Givan

    Committee Chair Paul Givan opens the meeting to the public.

    He directs members through some house-keeping business before moving to the first item on business on today’s agenda.

    It’s a discussion about a written briefing paper relating to the Criminal Justice (Committal Reform) Bill.

    Officials from the department are also joining the meeting to answer any questions MLAs may have.

    They are Glyn Capper and Laura Mallon.

  17. What's on the Justice Committee agenda?

    We're back from lunch and ready to bring you this week's meeting of the Justice Committee. Here's what's on this afternoon's menu.

    Agenda
  18. Time for lunch

    coffee

    With this morning's witness sessions completed we're going to leave the Health Committee at this point.

    Do join us at 14:00 for live coverage of this week's meeting of the Justice Committee.

    In the meantime, we're going to grab a coffee and a sandwich.

  19. Short break

    Colm Gildernew

    Colm Gildernew makes a few comments on the presentation, including challenging the Department of Health to improve its communications technology.

    He then thanks the witnesses and wishes them well in their important work.

    The members than have a brief discussion of the presentation.

    The chair then calls another short break.