Page last updated at 17:23 GMT, Thursday, 8 March 2012

Justice Committee

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, told MLAs it was "very odd" that the top 14 places in the judiciary in Northern Ireland were filled by men, on 8 February 2012.

Sir Declan was briefing the assembly's justice committee in his role as chairman of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission (NIJAC).

He described the number of women dropping out of the legal profession as "very disturbing".

The Lord Chief Justice explained that at the point of entry to the bar the ratio of membership was 58% women to 42% men. After seven years the figure was 50/50, and it continued to diverge over time.

Sir Declan outlined the job of NIJAC in appointing judges on the basis of merit, adding that the body had a role in ensuring that there was "a diverse and reflective pool of applicants".

"A strong and independent judiciary is vital to our democracy," he commented.

The Lord Chief Justice accepted there was a perception that NIJAC was dominated by the judiciary, but explained the role of lay members of the commission with skills in human resource management.

He said that NIJAC had set up a joint liaison team with the legal professions to address the matter, and was considering options such as term-time, or part-time, working.

The committee was then briefed by prison service officials on the progress of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) exit scheme.

Jim Wells of the DUP commented that NIPS had put 150 officers at a disadvantage by letting them go on 31 March 2012, rather than waiting a week for the start of the new financial year.

Ronnie Armour of NIPS said he "regretted" that some officers were upset because they had been mistakenly under the impression that they could leave on 31 March.

He said he did not accept the suggestion that the scheme had been mismanaged.

Justice committee membership

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