Policy summary

Policy summary Ten months after most justice and policing powers were devolved to the Assembly, agendaNi considers the main parties’ commitments from their manifestos. Policy on national security, illicit drugs and counter-terrorism is controlled by Westminster.

Justice Minister: David Ford MLA
Justice and Human Rights Spokesman: Stephen Farry MLA

When Alliance took on the portfolio on devolution in April 2010, David Ford argued that a shake-up of the system was needed to ensure “fair justice for all”.

In 2007, Alliance described a fundamental relationship between democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The party has also advocated UK and Irish entry into the EU’s Schengen zone to ensure greater co-operation between police and judicial services. This would include a hot pursuit protocol to enable the PSNI and Garda to cross over into each other’s jurisdictions.

A strong anti-paramilitary line is taken. Its Assembly manifesto suggested specific offences of engaging in paramilitary-style attacks, prosecutions for paramilitary flags under the Terrorism Act 2000 and allowing ‘exiles’ to return.

In its 2010 Westminster manifesto, Alliance pledged to improve the speed and efficiency of justice. A sentencing guidelines council was also proposed. The party emphasised prevention, early intervention, rehabilitation and collaboration between the police and other justice organisations.

Raising the profile of mental health and personality disorder conditions within the criminal justice system was also seen as important, as were the needs of victims and witnesses. At Westminster, it would oppose the permanent storage of the DNA of innocent people without their consent.

Assembly Justice Spokesman: Lord Morrow MLA
Westminster Justice and Home Affairs Spokesman: William McCrea MP

The DUP claims the devolution of policing and justice “will allow us to adapt our criminal law more quickly than lagging behind England and Wales”.

In 2007, it called for tougher sentencing for crimes against the elderly, causing death by dangerous driving or driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Anti-social behaviour orders needed to be strengthened and enforced more rigorously, it added.

A detailed 2010 Westminster manifesto looked forward to setting funding priorities for the criminal justice system. The party would support extra crime prevention and community safety initiatives, such as CCTV schemes.

Priorities included reducing the number of domestic abuse and knife crime cases as well as drug-related offences. Delays in the criminal justice system and the high number of prisoners on remand were also posing problems.

The prison estate “must improve” and the high number of mental health and personality disorder problems should be tackled. Its European manifesto promised to assess the level of republican support for the police and the rule of law and ensure that paramilitarism is “gone for good”.

Sinn Féin
Assembly Justice Spokesman: Raymond McCartney MLA
Assembly Policing Spokesman: Alex Maskey MLA
Oireachtas Justice Spokesman: Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Sinn Féin saw the devolution of policing and justice as a chance to “overcome resistance to change” within the PSNI, Garda and Northern Ireland Office.

In 2007, it demanded effective responses to sectarian, racist and homophobic attacks and violence against women and children.

More funding was sought for community restorative justice schemes. Victims and survivors of domestic violence also required more refuge and housing. It also proposed an all- Ireland register of sex offenders.

The main focus of its 2010 Westminster manifesto was enhancing the accountability, transparency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system. However, the party also called for the end of “politically driven” organisations such as MI5 and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Alex Maskey said there should be a civic police service “free from partisan political control or interference” as an alternative.

There should be a total end to the use of plastic bullets and a “branch and root” reform of the Public Prosecution Service, the party stated.

Justice Spokesman: David McNarry MLA
Policing Spokesman: Basil McCrea MLA

Justice priorities in 2007 included rejecting any reductions in police numbers, support for restorative justice schemes that work fully with the PSNI, electronic tagging and polygraph testing of high-risk sex offenders, and support for robust rehabilitation programmes.

In the general election campaign, the Conservatives and

Unionists vowed that the Chief Constable would have “every resource possible” to protect Northern Ireland from the threat posed by dissident terrorism.

More stop and search powers for the police, to tackle knife crime, were prioritised. The parties also pledged that anyone acting reasonably to stop a crime or apprehend a criminal would not be arrested or prosecuted. They would “back measures to give householders greater protection” if they had to defend themselves against intruders in their homes.

Its European manifesto pressed for mutual recognition, rather than harmonisation, in justice and home affairs policy, and opposed “grand centralising schemes” such as the European Prosecutor.

Assembly Justice Spokesman: Alban Maginness MLA
Assembly Policing Spokesman: Dominic Bradley MLA
Westminster Justice and Home Affairs Spokesman: Mark Durkan MP
Youth Justice Spokesman: Councillor Matthew McDermott
The SDLP’s Assembly manifesto proposed an all-Ireland sex offenders register, tagging of dangerous offenders and an end to automatic 50 per cent remission for them. Anti-social behaviour order legislation needed to be reviewed, with ASBOs only used as a last resort.

A review of the prison establishment was also suggested, along with a balanced workforce. As a rule, victims should be given reasons where criminal charges are dropped or not brought. A routinely unarmed police service would be backed up with emergency support units.

In 2010, the SDLP backed a charter of rights for victims of crime along with a review of criminal law. It also supported a sentencing guidelines council and a review of knife crime penalties, and the devolution of drug classification. The PSNI, it contends, should have primary in national security policy rather than MI5. In Europe, the party sought more participation in the European Commission’s Forum on the Prevention of Organised Crime and the EU Crime Prevention Network.

Northern Justice Spokesman: Steven Agnew
Oireachtas Justice Spokesman: Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin

In 2007, the Green Party said it would focus on the reasons for crime instead of dealing simply with the consequences. A “community restorative justice infrastructure” was proposed. The party would also push for “thorough improvements” in the prisons so that the dignity and human rights of detainees are respected. It promised to reduce the number of re-offending prisoners and called for alternatives to prison for convicted offenders.


The PUP supported increasing the use of restorative justice proposals in its Assembly manifesto and said it would like to see these schemes used more widely within the criminal justice system. It also promised to “work in partnership” with police and local communities to create safer neighbourhoods.

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