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I am pleased to announce today the terms of reference for a strategic review of parading. The review will provide the opportunity to take a fresh look at the issue of parading in Northern Ireland, to consider whether there are new and additional approaches, and to offer recommendations that have the potential to lead to a settled cross-community view of parading and its role in society.
To inform the review's work, the Government will commission research to examine attitudes across Northern Ireland towards parading. Details of the review body's membership, structures and approach will be announced later in the year. For the review to be successful it needs to reflect a balance of views and the Government will be seeking the active participation of representatives from all parts of Northern Ireland society.
Copies of the terms of reference and the research commissioning note will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be made available on the Northern Ireland Office website (www.nio.gov.uk).
The House will recall that on 25 July 2006 I gave a commitment to consult further on the draft protocol, which is designed to provide a framework for regulating community-based restorative justice schemes in Northern Ireland. Consultation on the draft protocolwhich ran in parallel with an equality impact assessment (EQIA)has now ended, and I wish to inform the House of the next steps.
The extended consultation has afforded a full opportunity to all interested parties to make known their views, and I am pleased that some 32 organisations and individuals across the statutory and voluntary sectors, including many key stakeholders, have chosen to do so. I am particularly grateful to the chair and honourable Members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, who have conducted a very thorough inquiry into the draft protocol, drawing evidence from a wide range of interests. I shall make a separate and detailed response to the committees report in the next few weeks.
Many respondents recognised that the draft protocol represented a more robust framework which, in large part, addressed previously expressed concerns about key issues such as the schemes relationship with the police, the suitability of those working in schemes, the handling of complaints and the inspection regime. In the light of the responses, I have decided to make a number of revisions to the previously published draft of the protocol in recognition of some of the points put to me.
I have also carefully considered the views expressed by respondents on the draft equality impact assessment report. Having examined these in detail, I do not consider that there are any further opportunities to consider mitigating options that would not in themselves impact adversely on public confidence in the overall process.
I now firmly believe that in this finalised protocol we have a structure that will provide for effective engagement between community-based schemes and the criminal justice system in dealing with low-level offending, which makes clear the centrality of the police in the process to be followed, and which includes stringent safeguards to protect the rights of both victims and offenders.
Accredited schemes compliance with the protocol will be closely scrutinised to ensure that its requirements are fully embedded and that the necessary procedures are operating effectively. Compliance testing will be undertaken by means of inspections carried out by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate, and the chief inspector has assured me that he will not hesitate to identify schemes which do not maintain the high standards set out in the protocol.
I am therefore today publishing the Protocol for Community-based Restorative Justice Schemes, and inviting expressions of interest, by 6 April 2007, from schemes wishing to adopt the protocol and thus begin the process of seeking formal accreditation.
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