Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: Legislative Consent Memorandum

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:30 pm on 23rd November 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance 5:30 pm, 23rd November 2021

I beg to move

That this Assembly agrees to the extension to Northern Ireland of a number of provisions within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill relating to the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act, the management of sex offenders, the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme (NDORS), application of section 29 of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 to the provisions in the Bill enabling a judge in England and Wales to make an order authorising the police to obtain information about the location of human remains outside of a criminal investigation, and the application of an amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to Northern Ireland to bring electronic money and payment institutions within the scope of account freezing and forfeiture powers in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Business Committee has agreed that there should be no time limit on this debate. I call the Minister of Justice to open the debate.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill was introduced at Westminster on 9 March and deals with a number of policing and justice issues. Members will be aware of the contentious nature of some of the powers included in the Bill, which will apply only in England and Wales, and will have their own position on those matters. However, with due respect to those particular issues, there are some non-contentious provisions in the Bill which impact on devolved responsibilities. Our seeking a legislative consent motion (LCM) on those non-contentious matters is without prejudice to individual parties' positions on the wider Bill.

The motion we consider today covers five unrelated matters that will extend to Northern Ireland, namely: amendments to the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act 2019, the management of sex offenders, putting the national driver offender retraining scheme on a statutory footing, special procedures for access to material relating to the discovery of human remains, and an amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to bring electronic money and payment institutions within the scope of account freezing and forfeiture powers to match provisions in England, Scotland and Wales.

I turn first to the amendments to the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act 2019 (COPO). Members may recall that COPO is a UK-wide Act with provisions that relate to both reserved and devolved matters. The Act creates a stand-alone legal regime for UK law enforcement agencies and prosecuting authorities to obtain electronic data directly from overseas communications service providers for the purposes of criminal investigations and prosecutions. They can do this by applying for an overseas production order.

The development of the Act was a prerequisite for the UK to progress a data access agreement with the United States of America. It will enable UK law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to access information held by service providers who process, create, store or communicate electronic data on behalf of UK citizens. It will also enable the UK to enter into similar agreements with other international partners.

The Act was commenced for Northern Ireland in February 2021, and the PSNI has been working with the Home Office regarding plans for implementation. The Home Office has advised that, during implementation planning, some practical issues were highlighted that require legislative amendments.

An amendment to the Act is required to allow appropriate officers to access and obtain communications data that is associated with the content, for instance details of who sent an email, the date and time it was sent and from what IP address. A further amendment will allow orders to be served by a third party. Currently, an overseas production order is required to be served by the Secretary of State for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or by the Lord Advocate for Scotland. This mirrors the process in mutual legal assistance, in which the Home Secretary and the Lord Advocate perform a role in both outgoing and incoming requests. The proposed amendment will provide the Home Secretary with the flexibility to delegate tasks related to the serving of an overseas production order to an appropriate body, for example, one that has the required technical and secure capacity to transmit data of that kind.

The final amendment will rectify an omission in the original Act. During the parliamentary process, an amendment was inserted that requires a judge to be satisfied, before approving an overseas production order, that the electronic data requested is likely to be relevant evidence. However, a consequential amendment was not included to make reference to that relevant evidence test.

The Bill also contains legislative proposals to amend the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to enable UK-wide enforcement of new civil prevention orders relating to the management of sex offenders, which are soon to be introduced in Scotland. The changes proposed, therefore, are consequential to the intended commencement of the Scottish orders. The provisions that will extend powers to Northern Ireland by way of this LCM will enable the new orders that are being introduced in Scotland to be managed and enforced more effectively where sex offenders move across the UK.

The new Scottish orders — sexual harm prevention orders (SHPOs) and sexual risk orders (SROs) — replace existing civil preventative orders made under the 2003 Act, and they are being introduced in line with a similar approach taken in England and Wales in 2015. The new Scottish orders were legislated for in the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, but that legislation has not yet been commenced as the Scottish Government are keen to ensure that the cross-jurisdictional provision that is proposed in the PCSC Bill is in place first. I consider it essential in ensuring that there is no loophole in the law for those sex offenders who move from one UK jurisdiction to another. Public protection must be our key focus, and we must continue to do all that we possibly can to keep our communities safe from the risk of further offending from that type of behaviour.

In practical terms, the new provision would mean that individuals who are subject to the new orders made in Scotland or England and Wales could not move to Northern Ireland to evade the prohibitions imposed. As with the England-made SHPOs and SROs, the Scottish orders can be tailored by our local courts to better suit an individual's new environment and in line with our public protection arrangements. Courts will be able to vary, renew or discharge an order. Breaching a Scotland-made order or its notification requirements, which is a criminal offence, can be enforced by our local authorities and courts in the same way as the England and Wales arrangements without the need to transfer the offender back to Scotland. Finally, the Bill's reciprocal provision will enable the courts in Scotland to manage and enforce Northern Ireland orders in the same way.

In addition to those new provisions, the PCSC Bill will close a legislative gap. Under the provisions of the 2003 Act, Northern Ireland courts can vary a sexual harm prevention order or a sexual risk order that is made in England or Wales, but there is no reciprocal provision to allow the courts there to vary an equivalent order from Northern Ireland. The new provisions of the PCSC Bill will close that gap and strengthen the courts' ability to manage a Northern Ireland order in England and Wales by including additional powers for renewal or discharge. Those additional powers are also included for the Northern Ireland courts.

I firmly believe that those further reciprocal provisions, combined with those that allow for the recognition of the new Scottish orders in Northern Ireland, will ensure more consistent and effective management of sex offenders across the UK jurisdictions, enhancing and strengthening public protection. Tabling the legislation in the Bill will ensure a joined-up and timely approach by all the UK jurisdictions. Any sex offender who seeks to move around the UK and, perhaps, tries to avoid the rule of law will have no hiding place.

I now turn to the national driver offending retraining scheme (NDORS). Members will be familiar with the arrangements that are already in place, whereby someone who is caught speeding can, in certain circumstances, undergo a driving course as an alternative to paying a fine and having penalty points on their driving licence. Those classes can have a powerful impact on participants and can help to change reckless behaviours. The Bill will amend the Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 to put that scheme on a statutory footing.

The legislation will provide a clear statutory basis to charge fees for courses and permit any excess fees to be used for the purposes of promoting road safety. It will also provide powers for the Department to make specific further regulations in that area. We have been working with the Policing Board, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Department of Finance and other relevant stakeholders on the application of the provisions to Northern Ireland. Officials have engaged with colleagues in the Department of Finance who are content, from a budgeting perspective, for the PSNI to retain the surplus income in-year. We are very keen to ensure that Northern Ireland is not exposed to any unnecessary risk as a result of being left without statutory cover for those arrangements when such has been introduced in England and Wales.

The fourth matter on which the LCM process is engaged is the introduction of special procedures for access to material relating to the discovery of human remains. The purpose of those clauses is to help the police in England and Wales to locate human remains in situations where it is not currently possible to do so. The legislation will allow officers to apply for a search warrant or production order to obtain access to and seize material and information that may indicate the location of a deceased person's remains without the need for it to count as evidence in the investigation of a criminal offence, as currently required when applying for such search warrants. The clauses mirror, as far as is possible, provisions for obtaining search warrants and production orders in the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act 1984.

The Bill will, therefore, provide new powers for the police in England and Wales to apply to the courts for an order to access special procedure material that may relate to the location of human remains. However, they also provide conditions under which the police can apply to the courts for access to special procedure material or excluded material. That mirrors schedule 1 to the PACE Act, which provides similar conditions for search warrants applied for under section 8. The relevant measure for us is that the Bill will also include provisions — again, similar to those in PACE — for orders issued in England and Wales to be executed in Scotland and Northern Ireland under the Summary Jurisdiction (Process) Act 1881 and the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 respectively.

The fifth matter to be included in the LCM is an amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002. That provision will bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK in that area. Members may recall that, due to late notification from Treasury, there was insufficient time for me to bring an LCM to the Assembly on that clause under the Financial Services Bill, subsequently the Financial Services Act 2021. I laid a memorandum before the Assembly on 26 March 2021 setting out the timing issues and indicating that I would request that the UK Government prioritise the identification of another suitable Westminster Bill to achieve that amendment as soon as practicable. I am pleased that the UK Government were able to bring forward that clause by Government amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The clause amends the definition of "relevant financial institution" under the Proceeds of Crime Act for Northern Ireland to match the definition for England, Wales and Scotland that was achieved under the Financial Services Act 2021. It means that account-freezing and forfeiture powers can be used in respect of money not only in bank and building society accounts but in accounts maintained by electronic money institutions and payment institutions, such as Revolut and PayPal, in Northern Ireland.

That ensures that law enforcement agencies here can avail themselves of powers that are available elsewhere in the UK. It will prevent the scenario where money in an account with an electronic money or payment institution that is suspected of being derived from criminal conduct, or for use in future criminal conduct, would be beyond reach. That is an important issue to address, given the increasing use of electronic money and payment institutions. We need to ensure that our legislation keeps pace with changing technology and criminal behaviour in order to remain effective in tackling organised crime. The account-freezing and forfeiture powers under POCA provide a valuable tool for law enforcement bodies and serve notice to criminals that they cannot hide their dirty money in such facilities.

Where the court orders the forfeiture of funds from an account, half of the amount is returned to the relevant law enforcement agency — for example, the PSNI — to enhance asset recovery work. The other half is used to fund asset recovery capabilities across the UK. I am working with the UK Government to change the current arrangements so that all proceeds of crime recovered in Northern Ireland stay in this jurisdiction, not only to enhance asset recovery processes but to be made available for investment in community projects to reduce crime and the fear of crime.

Members may ask whether those matters could be legislated for by the Assembly. In some matters, we are dealing with legislation made at Westminster or that applies across the UK, therefore necessitating the Westminster route. Given the advanced stage of the Bill and the timescales involved, it would not prove possible to legislate locally on those matters in a timely fashion. I also believe that, in the matters concerned, it is important to maintain consistency across the UK, and that is best achieved through the LCM process. Westminster colleagues are keen to have the request considered as soon as possible as the timescales are challenging.

Before I finish, I want to place on record my thanks to the Justice Committee for its report, and I welcome its support for the LCM. I would also like to record my thanks to Executive colleagues for their consideration of these issues. Building on that report, I am keen to hear the views of Members today and to seek legislative consent.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 5:45 pm, 23rd November 2021

On behalf of the Committee for Justice, I will outline the detailed engagement that it has had on the provisions to be included in this legislative consent motion.

Department of Justice officials attended the Justice Committee on 14 January to provide oral evidence on the provisions that had been identified at that time for inclusion in the forthcoming Bill to be introduced at Westminster. The Committee was told that those related to the amendments to the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act 2019 to address practical issues that had arisen during its implementation; the cross-jurisdictional enforcement of the Scottish sexual harm prevention orders and the sexual risk orders; and statutory authority for the national driver offender retraining scheme. The Minister has set out the details of those provisions, which, you will be glad to know, I do not intend to repeat.

The Department advised that, with the constraints on the legislative programme in this mandate, it would not be possible to achieve the equivalent legislation for those provisions via an Assembly Bill in the same timescale that could be achieved with the Westminster Bill. In addition, the forthcoming Bill included UK-wide provisions and would enable gaps to be addressed more quickly in a way that would be beneficial to Northern Ireland. The Committee agreed to consider the matter further when the Bill was available and the Executive had reached a position on the proposal to extend the provisions to Northern Ireland by way of an LCM. The Department subsequently wrote to the Committee on 28 January to advise that the Executive had agreed to the proposal to introduce the LCM, and it provided the further information requested by the Committee during the oral evidence session.

The Department also advised of another provision that was expected to be included in the Bill for which consent would be required. That will provide powers for the police in England and Wales to apply to the courts for an order to access special procedure material that may relate to the location of human remains without the need for it to count as evidence in the investigation of a criminal offence, as is currently required when applying for search warrants. The Department advised that the PSNI had confirmed that it was content with the provisions and that the Home Office had advised that it expected them to be very rarely used.

Further correspondence was received from the Department on 17 February advising of an additional provision requiring consent relating to the powers to extract information from mobile devices. That is to address a recommendation by the Information Commissioner's Office that the legislative framework should be strengthened to ensure clarity for victims and witnesses and offenders, to address inconsistencies between forces and to clarify the lawful basis for the data extraction.

Having considered that correspondence, the Committee agreed to ask the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People for their views on all the provisions to be included in the proposed LCM, including their compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. Both the Human Rights Commission and the Attorney General drew attention to and raised a number of issues in their responses on the provisions regarding the extraction of data from mobile devices. The Committee was, however, subsequently advised on 16 June 2021 that the Executive had not agreed to the inclusion of that provision in the LCM but instead may return to the issue once the related code of practice has been consulted on. The Committee has continued to follow up on that issue separately, so I do not intend to cover it any further this evening.

The Human Rights Commission also advised that the amendments to the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act 2019 regarding the communication data will impact on the right to privacy and freedom of expression and that further safeguards will be required in order to ensure that the acquisition of such data does not violate articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The commission suggested other issues that the Committee may wish to seek more information on, including who would be a prescribed person allowed to serve overseas production orders; how individuals subject to the Scottish sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders would be identified when moving between jurisdictions; and any potential implications for the work of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains (ICLVR). The commission also recommended that, in order to ensure equal access for all, the cost of the fees for training courses for low-level driving offences, which are used instead of fixed penalties, should not be prohibitive and that any changes in policy relating to the cost of course alternatives should be accompanied by a section 75 equality impact assessment (EQIA).

As suggested by the Human Rights Commission, the Committee wrote to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains for its views on the potential implications of the provisions relating to the location of human remains for its ongoing work. It responded by advising that it is an implementation body and the legislation and policies that underlie it are fundamentally a matter for the Irish and UK Governments. The Committee therefore wrote to the Department to ascertain if the views of the Department of Justice in the Republic and the Northern Ireland Office had been sought on the potential implications of the provisions relating to the location of human remains on the work of the remains body. The Department initially advised that neither organisation had been contacted but that the Home Office was of the view that the provisions did not impede or undermine the work of the ICLVR, although there was no indication of what information that view was based on. Having sought clarification of the basis on which the Home Office had reached that view, the Committee received confirmation from the Department of Justice that the ICLVR had advised that it was content that the provision had no adverse effects on the commission or its endeavours.

The Committee also asked the Department for its response to the issues raised by the Human Rights Commission. For Members' information, details of the subsequent extensive engagement on those issues between the Committee, the Department and the commission is set out in the Committee's report. In its most recent response, the Department set out information about the oversight arrangements relating to the SOPO and advised that similar oversight will be considered for future international cooperation agreements, as and when they are required. The Department also confirmed that, as recommended by the Human Rights Commission, it will complete a section 75 screening exercise when preparing secondary legislation relating to speeding courses as an alternative to prosecution and that, as part of that process, it will consult relevant stakeholders, including the commission. The Committee will, of course, be able to ensure that that has taken place when it considers any secondary legislation that is brought before it.

In respect of the issues relating to the SOPOs, the Department has advised that effective risk management processes agreed between police forces and probation services are in place across the UK and are compliant with international human rights standards. The Committee sought further details on the risk management processes that are already in place for the management of sex offenders who move between jurisdictions and noted that the framework is provided by the public prosecution arrangements for Northern Ireland. In responding to the points set out by the Department, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission urged the Committee to protect the monitoring and review of oversight functions but advised that it otherwise had no further comments about the management of sex offenders and the amendments to the SOPOs.

The LCM seemed to the Committee to be never-ending. In addition to the provisions that I have already mentioned, on 16 June 2021, the Committee was advised that the Home Office will make an amendment to the Bill to bring electronic money and payment institutions within the scope of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 freezing and forfeiture powers in respect of Northern Ireland. The Committee has been pursuing the issue separately since 18 March, when it noted the correspondence from the Minister of Justice that advised of a request from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to consider legislative consent for a clause in the Financial Services Bill. The Minister indicated to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury that it would not be feasible for an LCM to proceed within the short time provided. The Committee requested further information from the Department on the potential consequences for Northern Ireland of not being included in the provisions and clarification of whether cryptocurrency was covered by the provision. It has also sought the views of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

The Department's response advised that cryptocurrencies had been made subject to criminal restraint orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act. That has the effect of freezing property, which may be liable to confiscation following a trial and the making of a confiscation order. The Committee was also advised that the Minister had written to the Home Secretary to ask for her support to identify a suitable legislative vehicle by which to extend the relevant provisions to Northern Ireland as soon as was practicable. The Policing Board response highlighted a number of concerns and pointed out that, without the extension of the powers, the PSNI would be at a disadvantage compared with other police services in the UK and would be required to use existing restraint and confiscation powers that can take some time and are resource-intensive for the PSNI, the Public Prosecution Service and the courts. The board stated that it was likely that similar investigations regarding the funds of a suspect resident in Northern Ireland and a suspect resident in England would be treated differently, with the Northern Ireland investigation taking longer and using greater resource.

The Committee considered the responses from the Policing Board and the Department on 10 June and agreed to ask the Department for an update on the engagement with the Home Office to identify a suitable Bill by which to extend the relevant provisions in the UK Financial Services Bill to Northern Ireland. The Committee is, therefore, supportive of the proposals to include the provisions in the LCM for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

On 21 October, the Committee considered the memorandum that had been laid by the Department of Justice on 12 October and agreed that it was content with the proposal to extend to Northern Ireland by way of a legislative consent motion provisions in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill relating to the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act; the management of sex offenders; the national driver offending restraining scheme; the application of section 29 of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851 to the provisions of the Bill, which will enable a judge in England and Wales to make an order authorising the police to obtain information about the location of human remains outside of a criminal investigation; and the application of an amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to Northern Ireland to bring electronic money and payment institutions within the scope of account-freezing and asset forfeiture powers in Northern Ireland. As is set out in the Committee report, the Committee for Justice supports the Minister of Justice in seeking the Assembly's endorsement of the legislative consent motion.

That concludes my comments as the Chair. I trust that I have accurately reflected the time that was taken by the Committee to give due consideration to important provisions in the LCM.

I will conclude with a few comments in relation to the LCM as a Member of the House and on behalf of the DUP. The provisions of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that extend directly to Northern Ireland are a positive step forward in the fight against serious and organised crime in Northern Ireland. I do not think that any of us doubts that the tentacles of serious and organised crime have, sadly, invaded our communities in recent times. The ability to freeze and forfeit the proceeds of crime and terrorist property that is held online and in e-money institutions, in addition to banks and building societies, will open a new front in the war against organised crime gangs and paramilitaries. If we are serious about dealing with the scourge of organised crime gangs and paramilitary activity, we must use all possible tools at our disposal to ensure that that is the case. Tackling illegal wealth is an integral pillar of preventing harm and breaking the pernicious cycle of control and intimidation in the communities in which those groups operate.

Sadly, they operate in communities that face many challenges, including deprivation, a lack of employment and a lack of opportunities. Those who engage in such activity have a better and more lucrative lifestyle, and, sadly, some claim to represent their community, but that is far from the case.

I trust that the new power for local agencies to access samples of material that may relate to the location of human remains without the need for that to count as criminal evidence will unlock the door for better opportunities to give closure to victims and their families. That is welcome, particularly given our unique history and the long-standing absence of truth and justice for many victims of terrorism and other atrocities in Northern Ireland.

I also welcome the move towards mutual recognition and enforcement across the United Kingdom in relation to sexual offenders. Ensuring that sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders are operational across each of our four regions and can be amended by authorities in each jurisdiction is a logical but important move. That reflects the fact that the risk of harm or repeat harm does not vanish the second that a sex offender moves from one community or country to another. I welcome the Minister's comments on that in the House this evening. We owe it to the victims of those serious offences to promote a joined-up approach. While the principles are sound, the success of the legislation will ultimately depend on authorities across the UK putting in place practical arrangements to identify and track offenders at an early stage.

As a party, we would have preferred to have the provisions relating to the extraction of information from mobile and encrypted devices included as part of the legislative consent motion. However, the purpose of those changes was, on the back of concerns raised by the Information Commissioner, to clarify the lawful basis for data extraction from devices, mainly those of victims and witnesses, and with their consent. Without that, Northern Ireland authorities risk having to once again play catch-up with those in the rest of the United Kingdom. Once again, police officers in Northern Ireland face finding themselves with less security and clarity in doing their job to protect us all.

While we welcome the progress that has been made, we sound a note of caution about what may follow in the weeks and months ahead. I encourage the Minister to do all that she can to ensure that all the necessary provisions that are at her disposal are put in place so that we have a full suite of legislation that ensures not only that our communities are safe but that those who inflict harm on them have the full force of the law coming after them.

Photo of Jemma Dolan Jemma Dolan Sinn Féin 6:00 pm, 23rd November 2021

Sinn Féin supports the motion. The LCM for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill contains small but important provisions that, taken together, will help our justice system to respond to important issues related to organised crime, sexual offenders and locating human remains. I do not intend to discuss all aspects of the LCM, but I want to speak about some of them, including those that relate to the Scottish sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders.

It is important that all jurisdictions cooperate with each other when it comes to the management of sex offenders to ensure that there are no safe havens for them. I note the ongoing work to find a resolution to the finding of the Information Commissioner's Office that there was insufficient legal clarity on the grounds on which data can be extracted from mobile devices. Data extraction has big implications for data protection and privacy, so it is important that we get that right. While it was first proposed to include it in the scope of this LCM, given the concerns of the Attorney General and the Human Rights Commission, it is only right that it has been left out until a code of practice can be drawn up and agreed. I also welcome the late inclusion in the LCM of a provision to bring electronic money and payment institutions within the scope of the account-freezing and forfeiture powers in the Proceeds of Crime Act

Organised crime gangs wreak havoc on the streets of Ireland through their illegal activities, including human trafficking, drug importation and drug dealing, as well as their associated violence, which is often serious and includes killings. Those criminals do what they want purely for financial gain, so it is important that we keep up to date with modern technology to equip the legal system with the appropriate tools to target their finances and assets. While Sinn Féin would have preferred that the Assembly legislate on such matters ourselves, I understand that it was difficult to find a substantial legislative vehicle to do so during this mandate, so I support the LCM.

Photo of Sinéad Bradley Sinéad Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

I rise as the SDLP member on the Justice Committee to support the LCM. I state at the outset that, when I see the word "LCM" in front of the Committee, I sit up straight, and, when I hear the words "data sharing", I sit up even straighter. We initially looked at this to question what it was about, and, to be fair, whilst I would always prefer that the work of the House not be done via an LCM, I have to conclude that there are times when it is a good vehicle, and today is an example of that. Any efforts that we make in unison against crime should be with other jurisdictions, and we should not allow any gaps to exist if they are at all avoidable.

I will not go over the points that were made clearly by the Minister, the Chair and the member of the Committee, but I will put it in a wider frame. The Committee has been repeatedly warned of the suboptimal position that we are in regarding speed of access to data post Brexit. Whilst it is important that we work in unison across all jurisdictions, we must also be mindful of how this work, when tied up and working smoothly together, could feed into a wider picture. It is a smaller world, and it is particularly small when you on an island and part of that island is in the European Union. We must see this as a piece that we have to be tight together on, but we also need to put our minds to it. I ask the Minister to put some context to that if she can. I appreciate that this is not being drafted in that way, but, ultimately, when we step back and look at the bigger picture, we have to ask ourselves if it can be used in a way that will genuinely work in unison against crime, regardless of who the players are that we are working with.

I will leave it at that.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I start by thanking the Minister for her detailed statement and her explanation of the LCM. Given that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has already been introduced in the UK Parliament and the powers relate to legislation that applies across the UK, I recognise the practical reasons for the legislative consent motion, as opposed to our own legislation, to ensure parity with the rest of the UK, including the inevitable time constraints that the Assembly faces in the current mandate.

Some say that the original Bill contained provisions — mostly, it has to be said, relating to England and Wales — that represented a slide towards authoritarianism, so, at this point, I want to highlight the fact that the Alliance Party opposed the introduction of the legislation at Westminster, especially the parts that, in our view, marked an undermining of human rights and civil liberties. However, the provisions in the Bill now passed that extend to Northern Ireland and make the LCM necessary provide for a more joined-up approach to matters relating to public protection and tackling crime, including the enforcement of sexual offences orders and powers to make regulations and charge fees in relation to the national driver offender retraining scheme, as well as asset-freezing and forfeiture powers. Those will enable us to ensure consistency of approach across jurisdictions on matters that will be of benefit to Northern Ireland. Therefore, from a law enforcement perspective, I and Alliance colleagues support the extension of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I thank Members for considering the motion today and for their valuable contributions to the debate. I am pleased with the support that colleagues have shown and the recognition that it is sensible that the provisions be carried in a Westminster Bill.

Members of the Justice Committee know that I like to keep them busy with primary legislation going through this place, and I assure them that I would resort to an LCM only as a port of last resort. It is important that, as a legislative Assembly, we have spent so much of our time over the past 18 months doing precisely that: legislating. However, on this occasion, it is appropriate that the amendments are made in the Westminster Bill. I am pleased that, so far, there has not been resistance to that.

One query that was raised was about data sharing and the sensitivity around that. I want to turn to Ms Bradley's remarks, if I may. With regard to the EU, our data sharing arrangements have largely been able to be replicated through continued access to Prüm and a number of other databases. However, there is functionality loss as a result of no longer having access to the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). That functionality can be replicated, but it will require bilateral arrangements between each member state and the UK.

Obviously, we have been clear with the Home Office that we believe that it is something that should be taken forward and that Ireland should be first on the list of member states that we should work with. Clearly, there are cross-border matters for which we would want to have that live data sharing available. However, as I say, there has been, broadly, through the Future Security Partnership (FSP), a reasonable level of continued access to cross-jurisdictional cooperation and data sharing, albeit that there will be some constraints with regard to, for example, being able to ensure that, now that we have the data adequacy agreement, it is maintained.

I also want to reflect briefly, if I may, on the important point that the Chair of the Committee made, particularly with respect to the proceeds of crime. It is incredibly important that all of us in the House speak with one voice when it comes to those organised crime gangs and paramilitary organisations that exist in our communities, have a parasitic relationship with ordinary people who live and work in our communities, and spend their time, essentially, taking money off the people who should have it, absorbing it into their own amassed wealth, and creating criminal enterprises that place people at risk.

Earlier, we talked about the impact of loan-sharking, for example, and the enduring level of coercive control that loan sharks are able to exert over members of the community. There is nothing more frustrating to me, as Justice Minister, to hear and see those people flaunt that wealth in the face of people in the community who are in hardship, are vulnerable and are being exploited by those individuals in order that they can make money and maintain control.

It is important to me that we try to ensure that the proceeds of crime that are collected in Northern Ireland are retained here in Northern Ireland, not only so that we can continue to reinvest it in the work that we do on the proceeds of crime, but particularly, as I said, that we can invest it in communities that are affected by the crime. Only when the community sees the money that is being taken from their pockets — and put into the pockets of criminals — being restored into the community and invested in services that make a difference to them will they have the confidence and motivation to come forward and work with us in the criminal justice sector to try to ensure that those organisations can be disbanded and disrupted.

That is a hugely important piece of work that we all need to do. I pay tribute to the Member for raising it. We all know those people in our communities who swan around and appear to do no work but have no shortage of income. From time to time, we all ask serious questions about how that can happen. We introduced the Criminal Finances Act provisions earlier in the mandate specifically because we want to ensure that that can no longer be the case. We do not want there to be any incentive for any young person to feel that crime will pay. It is our job in the Assembly to legislate so that crime will not pay.

I also thank other Members for their comments, which were helpful, in the wider debate. Just to reflect what John Blair said: I am in the rather strange position of coming here to ask Members to support amendments in a Westminster Bill that my party does not support as a whole but has no objection to those particular elements of it. Like other Members, I live in hope that the Bill will be ameliorated by its passage through Westminster. Although we do not have any influence over that here, it is important.

If these were controversial measures, we would not seek an LCM. The Executive would not seek support, and, I am sure, the Committee would not give it. These are non-controversial amendments, but they are important nevertheless. They will have huge impact here. We seek your support, notwithstanding the fact that many of us in the House think that the Bill, as a vehicle, is a somewhat poor excuse for justice legislation.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly agrees to the extension to Northern Ireland of a number of provisions within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill relating to the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act, the management of sex offenders, the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme (NDORS), application of section 29 of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 to the provisions in the Bill enabling a judge in England and Wales to make an order authorising the police to obtain information about the location of human remains outside of a criminal investigation, and the application of an amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to Northern Ireland to bring electronic money and payment institutions within the scope of account freezing and forfeiture powers in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 6:15 pm, 23rd November 2021

As announced earlier, Mr Christopher Stalford is not in a position to introduce the Adjournment topic today.

Adjourned at 6.20 pm.