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Summary

  1. Health Minister Michelle O'Neill questioned by MLAs on changes to health and social care reform
  2. Prof Rafael Bengoa discusses his report on reconfiguration of Northern Ireland's health services
  3. Justice Committee assesses proposals for new domestic violence offence and legal aid fees

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all, folks!

    After approving some statutory rules and running through a bit of routine committee business, chair Paul Frew draws the meeting of the Justice Committee to an end.

    And with that, our Stormont Live coverage for the week is done, too.

    Parliament Buildings at Stormont

    The assembly is in recess next week, but it returns on Monday 7 November, and, of course, we'll be here to follow every moment.

    We'll leave you with this snap of a spooky-lookin' Stormont and bid you a happy Halloween!

  2. 'Danger that capped fee could see clients pressured'

    Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney cautions that a standardised fee system could lead to situation where solicitors "pressurise or advise their clients" to bring a case to an end as quickly as possible".

    He says barristers can point people "towards a particular outcome because that's the most expeditious thing to do" but it may not be in the client's best interests.

    Declan Kearney

    "If you're poor and you're under pressure," he says, "and you're relying upon a solicitor to advise you who's working to a capped fee, there is always the danger that something is lost in the process."

    Mr McGuckin says the proposals have to "operate on a swings and roundabouts approach" - some cases will be straightforward, others more complex, and the fee should balance out over that work.

    He adds that the Bar and the Law Society would say solicitors are "under duty to act in the best interests of their clients".

  3. 'Vulnerable people mustn't be caught between hammer and anvil'

    Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney says he has concerns that there is a danger that the "efficiency drive will affect access to justice" for vulnerable families, women and children.

    "Savings, efficiencies - that's important," he says.

    Court room

    But "people on the margins of society" must not be "caught between a hammer and an anvil" as a result of the changes to legal aid, he adds.

    Mr McGuckin responds by saying that the minister has taken the decision that family law "should remain within the scope of legal aid".

    "The people who need and who are eligible for legal aid should continue to get it," he adds.

  4. 'Worry that targeted savings fall short'

    Alliance Party MLA Trevor Lunn says if a £3m saving on a £90m spend is success "I wouldn't want to see failure", adding that it "worries" him that the figure falls "well short of what was originally intended".

    Mr McGuckin acknowledges that the "outline suggestion" was a 20% saving.

    Trevor Lunn

    But he adds that "when you get into the detail of the work", assessing the amount of time and effort that goes into the cases, the department had to "restructure" its target.

    "The Bar and the Law Society would make quite strong arguments about what's appropriate," he says, and saving £3m on the legal aid spend is a "reasonable outcome in those circumstances".

  5. 'Can £3m saving be considered a success?'

    Northern Ireland's legal aid bill this year has reached about £90m, Mr McGuckin, says.

    Mr Frew (below) asks if a saving of £3m, as the department is aiming for with its changes, is considered a "success".

    "If you measure success just in terms of savings, it potentially success," the DoJ official replies.

    Paul Frew

    "Some might argue that's too little," he says, but others - namely the Bar and the Law Society - "would argue that's too much".

    "If we have come out of this process and said there are no savings to be made in this but we have a fair system which adequately and appropriately rewards the legal profession," he adds, "that would be a success as well."

  6. 'Disagreement and tension on so many issues'

    Committee chair Paul Frew says there are "still so many outstanding issues where there seems to be disagreement or tension" between the department and the legal profession.

    Many of the issues are "fundamental" matters, he adds.

    A barrister carrying a wig

    It emerges that there have been 45 meetings between the DoJ and the profession on the proposals.

    Mr McGuckin says he does not believe any of the issues are "insurmountable", and the plan is to implement the proposals in April 2017.

    "There's a basic structure, there's an outline," he adds. "It may well get to the stage where we can't absolutely agree on every single point but that's where we're seeking to get to."

  7. 'New legal aid proposals could save £3m'

    Another group of DoJ officials are now briefing the committee on legal aid in civil and family courts, particularly on proposals for remuneration of family and children cases.

    Mark McGuckin says developing a standardised fee covering all family cases has been "a significant undertaking".

    Mark McGuckin

    He says there are still "concerns" within the legal profession over some aspects of the proposals and "translating the commitments in the document into practice".

    He says there were plans to save 20% on the department's legal aid spend between 2010-12, but after discussions with the profession the saving now expected to be between 10% to 15% - annually, that would be about £3m.

    "I am content that this represents fair remuneration and secures value for money," Mr McGuckin says.

  8. Bombardier brings forward Belfast redundancies

    Julian O'Neill

    BBC News NI Business Correspondent

    Bombardier in Belfast plans to complete 1,080 redundancies previously planned for 2017 within months.

    Gates at the Bombardier plant in Belfast

    The aerospace company said in February it was axing the posts - about 20% of its Northern Ireland workforce - over two years.  

    But it is now understood to be making the cuts this year, meaning 200 more workers will receive redundancy in the months to come.

  9. Health minister defends funding stance

    Marie-Louise Connolly

    BBC News NI Health Correspondent

    Health Minister Michelle O'Neill has told Stormont's Health Committee she was not rejected for funding that could have helped tackle hospital waiting lists.

    Michelle O'Neill

    She was criticised by some MLAs, who said she should have bid for money to help those waiting for operations.

    The BBC understands that she is expected to announce a considerable investment in elective care in January, with funding allocated specifically to tackle waiting lists.

  10. 'Domestic abuse is about 13% of recorded crime'

    Det Ch Supt Clarke outlines the extent of the problem of domestic abuse and the steps the police are taking to tackle it.

    He says that over past year the PSNI has trained up a group of 350 "enhanced officers" with special training on the issue.

    A woman in distress holds her head in her hands

    "The sad reality is that domestic abuse is about 13% of recorded crime in Northern Ireland," he says.

    Mr Clarke says every police officer "will have not just the training imparted to them but also fairly quickly have practical experience".

  11. 'We don't want fast law, we want good law'

    Mr Frew asks what the timetable for the proposed legislation is, adding: "We don't necessarily want fast law - we want good law."

    Steven McCourt

    Mr McCourt says Justice Minister Claire Sugden "has quite properly set us a target of doing this in 12 months".

    He says DoJ officials hope to be back before the committee before Christmas with "a broad construct".

  12. 'Getting offence down on paper could be challenging'

    Chair Paul Frew says coercive behaviour is the "essence of domestic violence".

    But suggests that getting that "down on paper in legislation" and devising how to gather evidence that would stand up in court could be the most challenging aspects for the DoJ in creating the new offence.

    Det Ch Supt George Clarke

    The PSNI's Det Ch Supt George Clarke says getting prosecutions in cases of domestic abuse is difficult.

    But modelling the offence on the one that exists in Scotland "may provide more opportunity" around prosecution than the English one.

  13. On the run: Nolan legs it from Stormont's politicians

    Video content

    Video caption: Is this the way to Amarillo?

    Er, we're not quite sure what to make of this, to be honest...

  14. 'Overwhelming support for new domestic violence offence'

    Domestic violence and abuse is the focus of the first part of today's Justice Committee meeting, and DoJ officials outline the results of a public consultation on the creation of a new offence and a disclosure scheme.

    That proposed scheme, which already exists in England and Wales, would allow people to find out if their partner has a history of domestic violence.

    Woman threatened by domestic violence

    Forty-four responses were received by the department, the DoJ's Steven McCourt says, and they "overwhelmingly" agreed a specific domestic abuse offence to "redress a gap in criminal law" around psychological emotional abuse of a partner should be created.

    Some of those who took part in the consultation said the offence should "recognise the gendered nature of the abuse" but after questions on equality they agreed it should "apply equally to all Section 75 groups".

  15. 'I'm concerned that we were misled'

    Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie is unhappy about a briefing given by officials during last week's meeting about the executive's action plan on tackling paramilitary activity.

    He says the officials did not tell the committee that it had "funding turned down because the plan wasn't detailed enough".

    Doug Beattie

    "I'm genuinely concerned that we were misled," Mr Beattie says, and he calls for the justice minister to appear before the committee, and for it to write to the finance and communities ministers as well as the Executive Office.

    The members agree to write to seek clarification from the ministers.

  16. In the chair

    Justice Committee

    The DUP's Paul Frew is chairing this afternoon's Justice Committee meeting.

  17. Welcome back

    This afternoon we have live coverage of this week's meeting of the assembly's Justice Committee.

    Department of Justice (DoJ) and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officials are briefing members on domestic violence and abuse.

    Later, the committee has a briefing on legal aid in family courts.

  18. That's lunchtime...

    Committee chair Paula Bradshaw thanks Prof Bengoa and Dr Stout for speaking to MLAs, and draws the session to an end.

    Health Committee

    We'll be back at 14:00 for our weekly coverage of the Justice Committee.

  19. 'People believe doctors and nurses, not politicians'

    Prof Bengoa ends with an anecdote on his switch from the medical profession to his move into politics, taking on the health ministry in Spain's Basque country.

    "Before I was a minister, I was giving speeches around these issues and people - 300, 400, whatever - were clapping," he says.

    Prof Bengoa and the committee

    "As soon as I accepted to be the minister, I said the same thing and no-one was clapping.

    "The people who people believe are the doctors and nurses."

    He makes the point that there must be good communication between health professionals and politicians for the reforms to work.

  20. 'People must take responsibility for their health'

    While the healthcare system needs reform, Prof Bengoa says people need to "take more responsibility for their own health".

    A key part of that, he says, is for all government departments to make policy changes in areas for which they are responsible.

    Overweight man

    "It is unreal for health and social care to be taking the brunt, all the consequences of a food and drink industry, for example," he says.

    "[It] has to get its act together and propose a much healthier approach forward with what they're producing so you can help the population engage in a healthier lifestyle.

    "That is a big agenda that has to be focused on."