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D  Day + 1000 = Justice for everyone

Justice Minister David Ford has set out his successes and challenges since the devolution of justice in 2010.
Wednesday, 6 February 2013

We need to build respect for justice, democracy and the rule of law. Our whole community ought to be able to take these things for granted. The delivery of a reformed justice system has a major part to play in building and protecting a more positive future for our community

Minister of Justice David Ford,Northern Ireland Department of Justice

The Minster was speaking in Belfast to an invited audience of Department of Justice stakeholders and partner organisations.

Minister Ford said; "It is just over 1000 days since the devolution of justice and in that time we have grasped many opportunities to reform the justice system.

"My vision on day one was to reshape the justice system to build a safer Northern Ireland, with lower levels of crime, safer shared communities and justice for all. To date, we have shown that we can deliver on that ambitious agenda of improvement and reform.

"Devolving justice can lead to improved accountability, provide local solutions for local problems, help to normalise society and create a shared future.

"While independence of the various elements of the justice system is paramount, there is the need to ensure a partnership approach is taken across all elements of government to achieve a safer community. Engaging with our partners and stakeholders has helped me hear what we are doing well, and also hear where we should be doing more.

"Since becoming Justice Minister I have demonstrated the capacity to reconsider issues when new facts are presented, such as on the future of Magilligan Prison or the additions I made to the Justice Act, the first such legislation for four decades. I want us to develop stronger links with our universities to help inform decision making and with the business community to improve the employability and thus the life chances of offenders.

“Delays in the justice system can dent public confidence and increase the burden on victims and witnesses. That is why I am working to deliver the most ambitious reforms right across the justice system for a generation, including a new victim and witness strategy that will treat these groups with dignity and respect. Our over-riding objective must be to reduce the number of people who become victims and to help do this we are working to prevent offending and reduce reoffending.

“Our programme of prison reform is now well underway and will continue to be at the top of the DoJ agenda in the years ahead, making the service more efficient while modernising the prisons estate. To date 287 prison officers have left the service through the voluntary redundancy scheme and I have secured funding to allow a further 73 to leave.

“Evidence shows that short prison sentences are less effective than non-custodial alternatives and I will continue to make the case for them. The Faster Fairer Justice Bill will address the problem of the thousands of people going to prison for three or four days for non-payment of fines. We need to move to a position where prison is the option of last resort.

“Much good work has been done to reduce the number of children and young people who end up in the justice system and to fill the gap in our understanding of their legal needs I will be commissioning a comprehensive study.

“A key element in our work is the project to establish Policing and Community Safety Partnerships, which reflect and understand their community and can deal quickly and effectively with issues of local concern. PCSP’s are key front-line partners in the delivery of community safety and I want to see them empowered and equipped to respond quickly to local priorities.

“The probation service gives offenders the chance to turn their lives around and so helps keep our society safer and I commend them for their work.

“Justice is an expensive business, and while we continue to deliver against the Executive’s spending and savings plans further savings can be made through necessary reforms to the legal aid system. The reform of criminal legal aid was not popular, but necessary and long overdue. We now need to make improvements to the controls over civil legal aid, where costs have tripled over the past ten years.”

Looking to the challenges ahead, Minister Ford said; “There is a responsibility on all of us in government to achieve more for our community, and we can do this through working better across departmental boundaries. It’s about sharing our learning and expertise, about making decisions which draw on the skills and expertise of all our departments and agencies. One recent success is the partnership developed between the Youth Justice Agency and the Department for Employment and Learning. I will continue to impress upon the wider Executive the need for us to do more, and better, together.

“Another challenge is the security situation. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the police for the commitment they are showing in dealing with the threat of terrorism, while continuing to provide a vital community policing service. The seriousness of this threat has been highlighted by the abhorrent murder of David Black and recent attempts on the lives of police officers. We need to demonstrate to all terrorists that they have nothing to offer our society.

“The justice system seems to be the only area of government acting in relation to the past, whether through the work of the Historical Enquiries team, the Police Ombudsman or legacy inquests. We need to face up to this issue and this requires everyone, including all of our political parties and the two governments, to take on their responsibilities.”

Minister Ford concluded by highlighting three recent challenges. He said; “I have been pressing for the Serious and Organised Crime Agency to be replaced by the proposed National Crime Agency, which would have broader capability to assist in tackling organised crime. I have engaged with the Home Secretary, law enforcement agencies and parties here to ensure the structure in Northern Ireland was modelled for our local policing architecture – in particular with PSNI co-ordinating the organised crime response. I achieved a number of substantive changes and am at a loss to see how any party who supports law and order can refuse to allow the NCA to operate here.

“The second challenge is to create a shared future, a need only too obvious over the past three months. The biggest challenge facing this community is the need to take radical and urgent steps to reduce division, to reduce fear and threat. The failure to develop a new framework for parades that everyone accepts threatens to condemn us to an annual cycle of violence and fear and to condemn another generation of young people to new criminal records. Another issue impacting on the justice system, and wider community, is the zero-sum approach to flags. This has done untold damage to our prospects for sharing public spaces, removing interfaces, securing community safety and reducing fear in communities.

“Until we deal with sectarianism and division within our society, particularly in interface communities, we will not achieve our full potential. Here the work of the PCPS’s and collaborative working across and beyond government will be key to delivering local solutions.

“The devolution of justice was seen by some as the conclusion of the peace process. But, peace has to be worked for. Divisions need to be dealt with. We need to build respect for justice, democracy and the rule of law. Our whole community ought to be able to take these things for granted. The delivery of a reformed justice system has a major part to play in building and protecting a more positive future for our community.

“I remain as committed today as I did 1000 days ago to reshaping our justice system to build a safer Northern Ireland, with lower levels of crime, safer shared communities and justice for everyone."

Notes to editors

1.All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office on 028 9052 6444. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715440 and your call will be returned.