Law reform in Northern Ireland

PEYE-061112KB2--0065 An overview of the Northern Ireland Law Commission’s work.

The Northern Ireland Law Commission was established under the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 following on from the recommendations of the Criminal Justice Review Group. The Group, in its report, stated: “There was a broad sense that there needed to be political neutrality in the area of law reform. Consideration of law reform issues by an independent and politically impartial body was thought to be highly desirable in Northern Ireland.”

Accordingly, the Commission was set up to keep the law of Northern Ireland under review and make recommendations to government for its systematic development and reform.

The Commission is an independent advisory non-departmental public body (NDPB) of the Department of Justice.

The Commission’s vision for its law reform role

The delivery of a fair, impartial and effective system of justice to the community in Northern Ireland are seen as key elements of the government’s overall aim for Northern Ireland. The Commission’s work is directly linked to these. The Commission recognises the fundamental premise of a modern system of justice and law: that everyone has rights and duties under the law. The Commission uses its resources to respect, safeguard and promote those rights and duties. Its aim is to provide an effective means of simplifying and modernising the law and making it accessible to the people of Northern Ireland.

The Commission prides itself as a body that puts forward carefully researched, robust and workable proposals for improving the law and its practice in Northern Ireland. This emphasis on achieving practicable outcomes is an important value defining the work of the Commission.

The Commission recognises that in order to develop workable law reform recommendations it must engage with those involved with and affected by the operation of the law and listen carefully to their views. It understands the importance of communication with its stakeholders whether they be in government, business, the voluntary community, the legal and other relevant professions or the general public. A variety of means, including seminars, stakeholder interviews, news releases and web technology, is used to ensure that those with a stake in the outcome of the Commission’s recommendations have an opportunity to express their views.

The Commission is an expert law body conscious of political issues but independent of the day-to-day pressures of political life that might be experienced by advisers inside government. The Commission believes its independence is key to its role.

The Commission’s projects

To date the Commission has produced consultation papers/reports on land law; business tenancies; special measures for vulnerable witnesses in civil proceedings; bail; unfitness to plead in criminal proceedings; and the regulation of apartment blocks. The Commission is working with the Law Commission of England and Wales on two projects: the regulation of health care and pharmaceutical professionals and electoral law. It is also currently considering the law relating to the defence of insanity in criminal proceedings.

The Commission, as part of its statutory remit, has recently made a call for law reform proposals.

More information on this and its work can be found on the Commission’s website: www.nilawcommission.gov.uk

Judena Goldring is a senior lawyer and Chief Executive of the Law Commission. The Commission’s Board is made up of senior lawyers and a lay member. Its chair is a High Court Judge. Its staff are lawyers supported by a small secretariat.

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