Question Time: Justice 28 September 2015

Minister of Justice, David Ford, discussed the problems caused by rural crime and the impact it has on its victims during today’s Question Time. The PSNI’s rural crime unit was established to identify trends and patterns in rural crime. A data analyst was employed (and part-funded by the Department of Justice) to help find these patterns and, despite the loss of this role in December 2014 (due to budget restrictions), the PSNI embedded the techniques in their own procedures and continue to use data and statistics to help tackle the problem. The Minister also acknowledged that “the prevalence of cattle thefts are greatest in border areas” and “there is clearly an issue to be addressed there”. The Minister will be bringing the recent increase in cattle rustling to the attention of police on both sides of the border and to the Irish Justice Minister at the Organised Crime Cross-border seminar later this week. Joe Byrne drew attention to the lack of a compensation scheme for victims of rustling. Mr Ford empathised with the farmers affected and called on a joined-up community approach in “keeping eyes and ears open” to assist the police in tackling the problem.

Judith Cochrane then asked the Minister how many of the recommendations arising from the review of the NI Prison Service have been implemented. Of the forty recommendations made by the review only two remain outstanding. The Minister however lamented that the recommendations have been implemented more effectively in some institutions rather than others highlighting the inadequate accommodation of training and employment opportunities at Magilligan Prison. And the reform programme has been most difficult at Maghaberry Prison which the Minister described as “probably the most complex prison in the United Kingdom”. However the new Director of Operations at Maghaberry is beginning to make major changes for the good. The Minister also discussed the impact of cuts on the reform programme saying that it had performed “extremely well” despite the financial restrictions which have had more of an impact on the day-to-day running of prisons.

During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on the Coroners Service, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, female representation in the criminal justice system and the closure of local courthouses. During the period for topical questions Mr Ford also answered questions on sickness absence of staff at Maghaberry, burglaries in North Down and East Belfast and the increased drug trade in South Belfast.

You can read the full transcript on our website.

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