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Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2016

Background and Policy Objectives

3.The Act gives effect to the desire of the Justice Minister to enhance two key component aspects of the criminal justice system – fine collection and prison services – and takes the opportunity to improve a number of other aspects of the criminal law and procedure.

4.For many years there have been significant numbers of fine defaulters ending up in prison for non-payment of their fines and other financial penalties.  A new civilian-based collection service will largely replace the role currently played by police officers and new collection and enforcement provisions in the Act will provide additional ways for offenders to pay their financial penalty and where possible avoid default in the first instance.  For those that still find themselves in default, community-based alternatives will be considered before potential imprisonment for non-payment.

5.In terms of prison services, the Act creates in law the office of Prison Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and sets out the main functions of the Ombudsman which are to deal with complaints; death in custody investigations; and investigations requested by the Department, or on the Ombudsman’s own initiative. These functions were previously carried out by the Prisoner Ombudsman on a non-statutory basis. The changes to fine collection and enforcement (as described above) will significantly reduce the numbers of people going to prison for fine default (until recently several thousand defaulters went to prison each year for short periods often for relatively minor offences) and a new prisoner removal scheme will allow Foreign National Prisoners, already subject to compulsory removal from the United Kingdom (UK) and nearing the end of their sentence, to have their sentence reduced to facilitate removal from the UK.

6.The Act also introduces a series of standalone reforms to strengthen powers available to courts and to make a number of other improvements to business areas. These include changes to sentencing provisions in the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011; extending lay visiting arrangements for police stations; expanding the existing offence of the possession of extreme pornographic images; creating new offences and penalties for disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress and assaulting ambulance workers; closing a potential lacuna in Section 9 of the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2015; introducing improvements to firearms licensing arrangements; and the creation of a fee structure for the Court Funds Office.

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Explanatory Notes

Text created by the Northern Ireland Assembly department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes accompany all Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


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