Judiciary Reform: Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement

Strand Three: Policing and Justice

4. The participants believe that the aims of the criminal justice system are to:

  • deliver a fair and impartial system of justice to the community;
  • be responsive to the community's concerns, and encouraging community involvement where appropriate;
  • have the confidence of all parts of the community; and deliver justice efficiently and effectively.

5. There will be a parallel 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 review will commence as soon as possible, will include wide consultation, and a report will be made to the Secretary of State no later than Autumn 1999. Terms of Reference are attached at Annex B.

6. Implementation of the recommendations arising from both reviews will be discussed with the political parties and with the Irish Government.

7. The participants also note that the British Government remains ready in principle, with the broad support of the political parties, and after consultation, as appropriate, with the Irish Government, in the context of ongoing implementation of the relevant recommendations, to devolve responsibility for policing and justice issues.

Annex B: Review of the Criminal Justice System

Terms of Reference

Taking account of the aims of the criminal justice system as set out in the Agreement, the review will address the structure, management and resourcing of publicly funded elements of the criminal justice system and will bring forward proposals for future criminal justice arrangements
(other than policing and those aspects of the system relating to emergency legislation, which the Government is considering separately) covering such issues as:

  • the arrangements for making appointments to the judiciary and magistracy, and safeguards for protecting their independence;
  • the arrangements for the organisation and supervision of the prosecution process, and for safeguarding its independence;
  • measures to improve the responsiveness and accountability of, and any lay participation in the criminal justice system;
  • mechanisms for addressing law reform;
  • the scope for structured co-operation between the criminal justice agencies on both parts of the island; and
  • the structure and organisation of criminal justice functions that might be devolved to an Assembly, including the possibility of establishing a Department of Justice, while safeguarding the essential independence of many of the key functions in this area.
  • The Government proposes to commence the review as soon as possible, consulting with the political parties and others, including nongovernmental expert organisations. The review will be completed by Autumn 1999.

Implementation History

1998

Minimum Implementation

As provided for in the Good Friday Agreement and the Terms of Reference in Annex B, the review group, comprised of four civil servants representing the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Lord Chancellor, the Attorney General, and five independent assessors, was formed. The review group had its first meeting on 1 July 1998 and published a consultation paper on 27 August 1998, distributing copies of this paper to political parties, individual politicians, churches, the judiciary, and a range of voluntary and community organizations with an interest in this issue. The group reviewed the criminal justice system over the past 30 years in Northern Ireland, reviewed recent changes in the legislations, and visited the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Scotland, South Africa, New Zealand, and the US to examine how other jurisdictions deliver criminal justice.1

1999

Minimum Implementation

The review group published a progress report in April 1999. After the progress report, the group held a series of nine seminars across Northern Ireland between May and June 1999 in which more than 3,000 individuals, groups, and organizations were invited for their feedback.

2000

Minimum Implementation

The review group published a report on 30 March 2000. In its 447-page review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland, the group made 294 recommendations on issues related to human rights, prosecution, courts, the judiciary, victims and wetness, and law reform, among others. These recommendations were also related to the establishment of an independent commission to oversee the appointment of judges, the integration of restorative justice into the judicial system, and the devolution of the criminal justice system to the Northern Ireland Assembly.2

  • 2. “Criminal Justice System Review Report."
2001

Minimum Implementation

The government was slow to respond to the review group’s report. Therefore, the nationalists and the republicans called for an immediate implementation of the report. This created pressure and on 12 November 2001, the government published its implementation plan for the criminal justice review and a draft justice bill. The proposed justice draft bill, however, did not materialize between 2001 and 2008.

2002

Minimum Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2003

Minimum Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2004

Minimum Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2005

Minimum Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2006

Minimum Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2007

Minimum Implementation

No developments observed this year.

Almost a decade after the signing the Belfast Agreement (i.e., the Good Friday Agreement) and constant insistence from Sinn Fein on the unconditional transfer of police and judicial powers to Northern Ireland, on 4 February 2010, the hardliner Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein voted to approve a deal that paved the way for the transfer of judicial and policing powers.3 The deal would allow the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointment Commission (NIJAC) to select and appoint, or recommend for appointment, applicants for all listed judicial offices, up to and including High Court Judge. 

  • 3. “Northern Ireland,” Keesing's Record of World Events, 56 (March 2010): 49754.