Page last updated at 11:34 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Policing and justice plan: Key points

A deal between Northern Ireland's biggest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, could see policing and justice powers devolved to Northern Ireland on 12 April. Below is a summary of some of the key points of the proposals contained in the agreement at Hillsborough Castle.


Following community consultation, the Northern First Minister and Deputy First Minister will table a resolution for a cross-community vote in the Assembly on 9 March.

If this is passed it will lead to the devolution of powers by the 12 April. The government will set out the Parliamentary schedule in Westminster for the related legislation required to effect devolution.


On 8 February, the first minister and deputy first minister will hold a meeting of party leaders to consider applications for the post of Justice Minister.

The purpose of this meeting will be to allow the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to identify which candidate they believe is best able to command cross-community support in the Assembly. It is likely to be David Ford, the leader of the cross-community Alliance Party.


The agreement states that "we believe that the independence of the judiciary is essential in a democratic society which supports the rule of law". It states public confidence requires that judicial decisions are taken in a fair, impartial, objective and consistent manner.

It makes clear the chief constable will be operationally responsible for directing and controlling the police. He will have operational responsibility for policing, and for implementing the policies and objectives set by the new Department of Justice and the Policing Board.


The Justice Minister will have the same status in the Executive as other Ministers - they will have the same standing in terms of attending and voting at the Executive and as with other Ministers the operation of their Department will be subject to their direction and control.

The agreement states that when it comes to "quasi-judicial decisions" they can be made by the Minister without the involvement of the Executive as a whole.

The Justice Minister will also bring forward any proposals they believe necessary to change the way the Executive works so that they will be able to deal with urgent or confidential matters without involving the whole Executive.

Pending the implementation of any agreed changes to those Executive procedures, the Executive would "normally" grant retrospective approval to any decisions in which the Minister had acted "reasonably."

However, the first minister and deputy first minister, acting jointly may require any matter to be brought to the Executive for consideration or agree jointly that retrospective approval would not be granted.

Notwithstanding the above, all issues which cut across the responsibility of two or more ministers, legislative proposals and spending plans for the Department of Justice would require Executive consideration. It is expected that any new arrangements would be in place by the summer recess.


The issue of how to deal with parading has been addressed with a commitment to a new mechanism to deal with disputed marches. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are to chair a working group of six people with experience of the issues around parades with a view to providing a way forward within three weeks.

The agreement states the rights of marchers and residents will be respected and says that if mediation fails there will be recourse to independent adjudication by a body made up of people with legal and lay expertise.

It also states the first and deputy first minister will promote direct dialogue between loyal orders and residents groups and encourage elected representatives to play a role. The Parades Commission will continue until the new arrangements are in place. New legislation could be in place at the end of 2010.


Party papers have been exchanged during the talks at Hillsborough Castle making suggestions on how the Executive might function better and how delivery might be improved. The two ministers from the SDLP and UUP will be asked to chair a working party which will be set up to make recommendations.


Junior Ministers will chair a working group involving all of the parties and oversee an exercise of trawling for and identifying all Executive papers and decisions which are still pending.

This refers to the fact that the poor working relationship between the DUP and Sinn Fein has lead to a lack of agreement on a range of issues, including a community relations strategy. This is an attempt to speed up progress.


The first minister and deputy first minister will oversee an examination of the St Andrews Agreement and identified all matters contained within it which "have not been faithfully implemented or actioned".

They will provide a report to the Executive by the end of February detailing the level of progress made on each outstanding matter.

One issue from the St Andrews Agreement outstanding relates to an Irish Language Act. Sinn Fein want an act which will protect and promote the language but the DUP have blocked it.

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