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Northern Ireland: Policing and Justice

Volume 708: debated on Monday 23 February 2009


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Shaun Woodward) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

On 18 November, an historic agreement was announced by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister setting out a process which would pave the way to the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The agreement and the subsequent report of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee on the modalities of devolution contained a number of significant decisions on the shape of the post-devolution framework for the administration of policing and justice in Northern Ireland.

The Government are committed to helping to move the process forward in whatever way they can.

I am therefore today introducing a Bill to Parliament to give effect to those elements of the November statement and the AERC report that require primary legislation.

The Bill does not provide for when devolution will happen, nor does it provide for what is to devolve—both of these still require further consideration by the parties and ultimately by Parliament.

It does, however, provide a framework for the post-devolution administration of justice by providing for a new ministerial model which the Assembly can use to set up a new department of justice.

It also provides for certain functions in relation to judicial appointments and removals to rest with the Judicial Appointments Commission rather than the First and Deputy First Ministers.

In addition, later this week I will be laying an order under Section 17(4) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to increase the maximum number of ministerial offices to 11. This will enable the Assembly to give effect to the recommendation of the AERC report that a department with policing and justice functions should be established as an additional department to the existing departments which make up the Northern Ireland Executive. The Assembly is currently prevented from establishing an additional department by Section 17 of the Northern Ireland Act, which limits the number of ministerial offices to 10.

Separately, I will also commence a number of provisions under the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 and the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007. This will ensure that when the Northern Ireland Assembly makes a decision to legislate to set up the new department of justice it has a full range of options to choose from.

There are still important decisions to be taken by the Northern Ireland Assembly on the timing of devolution and on what functions they wish to see devolved. However, these measures provide the framework for those decisions to be taken and represent another significant step for Northern Ireland on the path to the completion of devolution.