NI: Proposals for judicial non-ministerial department at an early stage

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan
The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan

Proposals to create a non-ministerial department for the judiciary are at an early stage, MLAs heard yesterday.

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, discussed the idea in his speech to mark the opening of the new legal year.

He said a preliminary report on civil justice, to be published in the near future, will recommend the creation of a non-ministerial department which would be led by the judiciary and would provide strategic direction and manage the fiscal challenges being faced by the courts.

A similar model is already operating in Scotland and Ireland.

Sir Declan said he established a Judicial Executive Group to engage with the Department of Justice and other stakeholders about bringing forward the necessary legislation.

Speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Justice Minister Claire Sugden said she had not met with the Judicial Executive Group, but had discussed the issue with Sir Declan directly.

In response to an Assembly question, Ms Sugden said: “We are working quite closely with the Lord Chief Justice to try to understand the advantages and disadvantages of what he is asking for.

“I respect entirely the independence of the judiciary, but sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for.

“By all means, if the Lord Chief Justice is keen to take this off my hands and he knows the repercussions of doing so, I am quite happy to look at that. It is not something that I am particularly against.”

She added: “The thinking around it seems to be very much at the early stages. I am quite happy to have discussions with the Lord Chief Justice and the Group, if that is how he wishes us to move forward and if that is the most appropriate thing to do.”

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