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Nationalists give cautious welcome to justice plan

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

Nationalist politicians last night gave a cautious approval to updated plans for the implementation of a review of Northern Ireland's criminal justice system.

The implementation plan for the criminal justice review, published yesterday, sets out progress made in the introduction of 290 recommendations for changes to the criminal justice system in the north.

Key recommendations include: the promotion of a human rights culture in the criminal justice system; a new public prosecution service to replace the current Director of Public Prosecutions; the establishment of an independent judicial appointments commission and an independent criminal justice inspectorate.

Other issues to be addressed are the needs of victims of crime, an independent law commission, improvements to arrangements for youth justice and the development of north/south cooperation on criminal justice matters.

Two key figures were yesterday appointed to oversee the new changes in the north's justice system.

Former Scottish law lord James Clyde was appointed justice oversight commissioner and will oversee the planned changes to the justice system.

The position of chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland is to be taken up by Kit Chivers, currently HM chief inspector of the Magistrates Courts Service.

Kit Chivers will be responsible for the inspection of all aspects of the criminal justice system, excluding the courts.

Criminal justice minister John Spellar said the updated plan set out a programme which would deliver "a more modern, transparent, accountable and progressive criminal justice system for Northern Ireland".

"It represents another significant step towards the full implementation of the Belfast agreement," Mr Spellar said.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly gave a cautious welcome to what he said was "a new and significantly revised" implementation plan but said considerable work still needed to be completed to achieve a "fair and human rights-based justice system".

Mr Kelly said Sinn Féin had warned the British and Irish governments during discussions that criminal justice proposals, as they stood, were incapable of achieving the necessary changes in the criminal justice system.

"The British government agreed to produce a new implementation plan and new legislation which will place much greater emphasis on all-Ireland cooperation, on human rights, on achieving representativeness and on accountability. These changes were hard won, but much work is still to be done," Mr Kelly said.

SDLP spokesman Alban Maginness described the publication of the revised implementation plan as a "vital step" to achieving an accountable criminal justice system promised by the Good Friday Agreement.

"The SDLP is determined to bring about a new beginning to criminal justice, just as we are bringing about a new beginning to policing. That means getting all the changes promised by the criminal justice review implemented in full," he said.

Mr Maginness said the SDLP had won detailed guarantees from the British government in regard to criminal justice review.

"The SDLP will be vigilant in ensuring that the commitments published by the government are implemented in full," he added.

June 20, 2003

This article appeared first in the June 19, 2003 edition of the Irish News.

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