Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex A

The Review of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland

  The Agreement reached in Belfast on Good Friday 1998 provided for a "...wide-ranging review of criminal justice (other than policing and those aspects of the system relating to the emergency legislation) to be carried out by the British Government through a mechanism with an independent element, in consultation with the political parties and others." The terms of reference of the review were set out in the Agreement.

  2.  The Agreement was put to separate referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on 21 May 1998. Those referendums endorsed the Agreement and, as a direct result, the Criminal Justice Review Group was established on 27 June 1998 and began its work shortly thereafter. It reported on 30 March 2000, and the Government announced a period of six months for consultation on the report's 294 recommendations.

  3.  The Review Group committed itself from the outset to full consultation, believing that it was important to gather and test the views of as wide a range of opinion in Northern Ireland as possible.

  4.  The Review Group published a consultation paper on 27 August 1998. Its purpose was to set people thinking. The paper set out a range of issues which we intended to consider, but made it clear that we would be happy to consider other issues raised with us that fell within our terms of reference. It sought written comments, but also encouraged interested organisations and individuals to meet us to make their views known. The Review Group distributed over 5,000 copies of the consultation paper to political parties and individual politicians, the churches, the criminal justice agencies and the judiciary, to solicitors and barristers, and to a wide range of voluntary and community organisations known to have an interest in criminal justice issues.

  5.  In the months which followed the Review Group met representatives from the following: all of the political parties who wished to make submissions to us; the criminal justice agencies; the judiciary and magistracy, both professional and lay; the Bar Council and Law Society; the major voluntary organisations with an interest in criminal justice; and a wide range of human rights lobby groups. In all the Review Group held over 70 meetings with interested groups and organisations. We received over 90 written submissions, all of which were thoughtful and constructive.

  6.  The Review Group judged that the formal consultation process was successful in drawing out the views of the political parties, the criminal justice agencies, the legal profession, and the major voluntary organisations and lobby groups in the criminal justice field. It published a progress report in April 1999 setting out what it had done and giving a flavour of the issues raised with it. However, the Review Group also wanted to hear the views of those who came from the ground level in statutory, voluntary and community organisations, practitioners and those working at the periphery of, or interface with, the criminal justice system. As a result, it held a series of nine seminars across Northern Ireland in May and June 1999 to which over 3,000 individuals, groups and organisations were invited. The seminars provided an opportunity for practitioners from different agencies and professions and community groups to work together to discuss the issues which the Review Group was considering. Around 300 people attended the seminars, from a wide variety of backgrounds, and contributed a great deal to the debate. The Review Group had feedback, from those who attended, that they found the seminars very useful.

  7.  In addition, the Review Group put in place an extensive programme of survey research and 24 focus groups to shed light on the views of the public on matters which have an impact on the community's confidence in the criminal justice system. The output of the research was published along with the Review Group's report.

  8.  The Review Group's report was almost 450 pages long and contained 294 recommendations. To assist the consultation process which has followed publication of the report, the Review Group produced a separate, clear and simple guide to the report, which was published along with the main report. Both the main report and the guide have been widely distributed in Northern Ireland and further afield. The guide has also been reproduced on tape, in Braille and in large type. The guide, main report and research reports are also available on the Internet.

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