NI Attorney General: ‘gap in the system introduced by the devolution of justice’

Northern Ireland’s new Attorney General, John Larkin, was giving evidence to the Assembly’s Justice Committee today.  And, as the BBC notes, he repeated his concerns about his lack of oversight powers over the Public Prosecution Service.

Last month, Mr Larkin said he might not have all the powers he needed.

Unlike his direct rule predecessor, he will not have any powers of supervision over the Public Prosecution Service.

Mr Larkin told the committee that in contrast to the position before 11 April, he could not appeal unduly lenient sentences or initiate criminal proceedings.

“If something has gone wrong with a significant prosecution, or a significant piece of Public Prosecution Service policy, there is no mechanism for a parliamentary explanation of that, because the director can only be asked about administration and finance,” Mr Larkin said.

“So if something is perceived by the Assembly to have gone wrong, either generally or with the PPS, there is no mechanism at present for that to be addressed.”

I’ve asked it before, but why wasn’t this addressed when the parties where discussing the  “Agreements, Concordats, Protocols and Memoranda of Understanding underpinning the devolution of policing and justice matters”?

, , , , , ,

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    The obfuscation, delay and bad faith shown by the unionist parties made this issue, difficult as it was, even more difficult – so instead of having sensible debates we had grandstanding by the DUP and the UUP trying to wreck the transfer.

    In the end, as usual, the Unionists had to have it force fed to them by the the 2 governments and by SF threatening to collapse Stormo – so it is hardly suprising that there is touch of the pig’s Mickey about it.

  • Pete Baker

    More superficial ‘analysis’ from Sammy Mac.

    Have you even read any of the discussions and/or reports from the Committee responsible?

  • Cynic

    This was deliberate to protect the independence of the PPS from a politically appointed AG in Belfast

  • Alias

    Of the two parties which negotiated the terms, which of them has the most to gain from “unduly lenient sentences” and from leaving the PPS more vulnerable to political interference in the judicial process than should be the case?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Pete,

    re “superficial ‘analysis’ ”

    we had about 250 posts that fell into that category in the run up to the transfer from your goodself and also failed to adress the political context of the issue – something you are obviously still struggling with.

  • Pete Baker

    That would be a ‘no’ then.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Wrong again there Pete.

  • Granni Trixie

    Essentially, this issue is related to the definition of the role of the AG and the question of has he the tools to the job?.

    But why did he take on the job without clarifying if oversight of the PPS is part of his job description or not?. Clearly he thinks someone ought to do it but if not he whom?.
    Questions as to the independance of the personal appointed as AG surely are less likely if the job had advertised (especially as it carries a salary of more than the PM). What was the process of selection? Who decided on it?. When names are plucked out of the air, it leaves the person more vulnerable to accusations of lack of independance. But hey ho, we are where we are and the AG is right to press home that we need clarification.

    To me these questions are separate to the question as to whose role it ought to be to scrutinize the PPS particularly as there is consensus that much needs fixing there.

  • Cynic

    ” why did he take on the job without clarifying if oversight of the PPS is part of his job description ”

    he is a barrister ….I assume that he read the Act

    The AGs post is not a job. Its a political appointment. He is the Legal Adviser to the Government of NI

  • Damian O’Loan

    You may be interested in this written answer from yesterday’s Hansard:

    “Northern Ireland: Justice
    Question

    Asked by Lord Laird

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Wallace of Tankerness on 3 June (WA 9), who has the power to terminate prosecutions in Northern Ireland, to decide that sentences may be reviewed, and to review sentences. [HL727]

    The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): A prosecution may be terminated before its conclusion in a number of ways. The prosecutor may withdraw a case or may offer no evidence. The court may also stop a case from proceeding by acceding to a defence abuse of process argument or if, at the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, it considers the defendant has no case to answer. The specific power to issue a nolle prosequi-which was formerly held by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland and which acts to terminate any prosecution on indictment-was transferred on devolution of justice and policing to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. The power to seek leave to refer a case to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration on the grounds of undue leniency has similarly been transferred to the director. Whether the sentence is reviewed or changed is a matter for the Court of Appeal.”

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/100701w0002.htm#10070127000276

  • Comrade Stalin

    In the end, as usual, the Unionists had to have it force fed to them by the the 2 governments and by SF threatening to collapse Stormo –

    You forgot to mention the part about the DUP being critically weakened by the unfortunate turn of events in Peter Robinson’s personal life, believing that an assembly election at that precise moment would lead to a huge victory for the TUV. But then again, you never were much of a man for details that gainsay your imaginary narrative.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I must say, though, it’s quite a cool thing reading through the Justice comittee’s Hansard. Politicians there are actually talking about real issues with crime and anti-social behaviour and how they may be effectively tackled. Devolving these powers was definitely the right thing to do, it’s a damn shame it took so long.

  • Granni Trixie

    With hiindsight, it is clear to the public and even to politicans themselves,the extent to which they have avoided taking decisions, perhaps par for the course on a learning curve in “doing politics” after such a long period of Direct Rule. If the Justice Ministry/Committee conducts itself more effectively, it might provide an influential model.

  • “The Advocate General for Northern Ireland is the chief legal adviser to the UK Government on Northern Ireland legal matters and the office is held by the Attorney General for England and Wales.[1]

    The Advocate General was created as a separate office upon the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    The chief legal adviser to the Northern Ireland Executive is the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.”

    Does this mean that the CPS and PPS are both supervised by Dominic Grieve?

  • Framer

    “The specific power to issue a nolle prosequi – which was formerly held by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland and which acts to terminate any prosecution on indictment-was transferred on devolution of justice and policing to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. The power to seek leave to refer a case to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration on the grounds of undue leniency has similarly been transferred to the director.”

    This absurdity means that only the DPP now has the power to stop his own prosecutions and only he the ability to appeal lenient sentences. More powers for the unaccountable. This needs amended.

    According to an earlier answer given to Lord Laird the powers of the Advocate General (Dominic Grieve) are solely statutory:

    Northern Ireland: Advocate-General
    Question 3 June 2010: Column WA9
    Asked by Lord Laird
    To ask Her Majesty’s Government who is the Advocate-General for Northern Ireland; and whether that person has the power to terminate prosecutions in Northern Ireland, decide that sentences may be reviewed, and review sentences.[HL114]
    The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): Section 27 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 provides that the Attorney-General for England and Wales shall, by virtue of that office, also be the Advocate-General for Northern Ireland. The powers of the Advocate-General are solely statutory and are contained in Part 2 of and Schedule 7 to the 2002 Act. They do not include the powers referred to by the noble Lord.