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Live Reporting

Tori Watson and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. Good evening

    Emma Sheerin of Sinn Féin thanks the judge for his time, before running through some committee business.

    That concludes this week’s coverage of events from the house on the hill.

    We’ll be back on Monday when MLAs will be back in the assembly chamber.

    Until then, have a great weekend - and if you’re keen for more political updates, don’t forget to check out tonight’s episode of The View, or this week's Red Lines podcast.

    View more on twitter
  2. In other news: 'No question of an outright ban between north and south'

    The tánaiste (Irish deputy prime minister) has insisted the Irish government is not planning to ban cross-border travel, even though infection rates are higher in Northern Ireland.

    Leo Varadkar said the government will continue to ask people not to move between countries.

    "There is no question of there being an outright ban between north and south, it's not under consideration, not being discussed, period," he told the Dáil (Irish Parliament).

    Leo varadkar

    It comes following criticism of media reports that claimed Mr Varadkar would seek to encourage people not to travel north, which were first reported by the Irish Independent.

    The tánaiste further clarified that with the Republic of Ireland reducing some of its Covid restrictions next week "inter-county travel will still be restricted and will only be allowed for work, school or essential purposes".

    Mr Varadkar said he also hoped that closer to Christmas, the government would be in a position to advise people that they could travel between counties, including NI, to visit friends and family but that it would depend on epidemiological data.

    Read more on this story here.

  3. 'Create expectations that may be difficult to deliver?'

    John O’Dowd of Sinn Féin asks about the statute book which, he says, leaves government departments “open to judicial review”.

    Does he agree that if government departments and others adhere to a proposed bill of rights as they have to adhere to other statuary legislation then the work of the courts would be lessened?

    John O'Dowd

    “That may be right” says Sir Declan, but he questions “whether or not the production of an enhanced, or apparently enhanced, series of protections will create expectations that it may be difficult to deliver”.

  4. 'Some of these things will give rise to problems'

    Brexit is on SDLP MLA Mark Durkan’s mind.

    What impact will Brexit have on the “justiciability and enforcement of rights” in NI?

    Sir Declan outlines a number of areas of concern, including the EU arrest warrant and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

    He says he “suspects” that “some of these things will give rise to problems, people will have different views about how the problem should be solved and the matter will come before the courts”.

    Mark Durkan

    “It doesn’t necessarily follow that civil and political rights are going to be materially impacted if in fact; one, the EU Convention stays in place, and secondly that Convention law, basically marches in pace with the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the EU,” he adds.

  5. Socio-economic rights

    Paula Bradshaw

    Paula Bradshaw of Alliance asks about the pressure an expansive bill of rights, including socio-economic rights, could put on the courts.

    Sir Declan says "we would have to have an input operationally into what we could manage and what might require additional resource".

    He says he doesn't see that economic rights can be easily made justiciable.

    The right to work, the right to housing and the right to work give rise to political obligations and "it is the coming into play of those political obligations" that would make it approprisate for the courts to become involved, Sir Declan explains.

  6. In other news: Courts and tribunals continue during two week lockdown

    Justice Minister Naomi Long has announced that courts and tribunals will continue during the two week lockdown due to start tomorrow.

    The restrictions are the most stringent since those which were implemented in March.

    Mrs Long says the bulk of hearings would still be conducted remotely, but that in-person hearings would be held if directed by a judge.

    View more on twitter

    "A colossal effort went in to ensuring justice did not grind to a halt when lockdown occurred earlier this year and also in subsequent months to ensure that in-person hearings could take place safely," she said.

    The minister also advised members of the public "involved in court and tribunal proceedings" to check in advance with their legal representatives or tribunal offices, if they are required to appear in person, "and to only attend in person if required".

  7. 'Important judiciary are seen to be able to speak truth to power'

    Deputy Chair of the Committee, Mike Nesbitt, asks about the “public perception of the judiciary”.

    The UUP MLA wants to know about its “independence, impartiality and integrity” if “you’re being asked to adjudicate on the implementation of a bill of rights”.

    Mike Nesbitt

    NI’s top judge responds, “from the standing of the judiciary it’s maybe more important that the judiciary are seen to be able to speak truth to power”.

    “The judges to some extent would, I think would lose their reputation for integrity and independence if they weren’t prepared to deal with whatever parliament has decided should be put in front of them,” adds Sir Declan.

  8. 'Ahead of the posse'

    Emma Sheerin of Sinn Féin is the committee chair and kicks-off the question session.

    She refers to previous briefs that the committee has received and wants to know how the Lord Chief Justice would “prevent a load of judicial reviews in the event of a bill of rights being created?”

    Sir Declan Morgan says pre-legislative scrutiny “is designed to ensure that there is clarity in relation to the provisions and for people to know where they stand”.

    “You’re very lucky if you can predict all the ways these rights can come into play,” he adds.

    Emma Sheerin

    “If you’ve got a well-crafted, clear document, it certainly can reduce the extent to which there will be judicial involvement,” says the lord chief justice.

    How could a bill of rights address some of the potential gaps in rights that leaving the EU may result in, asks the Sinn Féin MLA.

    Sir Declan Morgan responds that “anyone who can predict” anything to do with Brexit “is ahead of the posse”.

  9. 'Economic, social and cultural rights'

    Following delays due to technical problems, Sir Declan Morgan joins by video link and begins his briefing.

    He says he understands that the members want to discuss is "the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights".

    The concept of a bill of rights has been established for "a very, very long time indeed," Sir Declan explains, referencing Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the US Bill of Rights of 1789.

    These were all the result of major constitutional change and were based on civil and political rights.

    "The European Convention on Human Rights is another example," the Lord Chief Justice says.

    He then turns to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1949 and says it included rights such as the right to social security, the right to work and free choice of employment and the right to rest and leisure.

    "A much sought-after right," Sir Declan jokes.

    Sir Declan Morgan

    He says these are "very much more in the nature of social and cultural rights", and that the same can be seen in the constitution of India.

    The Lord Chief Justice points to South Africa as another country that offers guarantees of these type of rights, including a right to housing, "rights to food , water, healthcare" and a raft of others including children's rights.

    The UK has no written constitution but such rights can be inserted by legislation, he notes.

    Regarding the European Convention on Human Rights, Sir Declan notes that "there is a sustained body of jurisprudence from the European Court".

    The establishment of the court to interpret and develop the rights "is an important matter in terms of asserting that these were to be justiciable".

    Sir Declan says the situation is less clear in the local sphere.

    He considered the Child Poverty Act of 2010, which became the subject of litigation in 2012.

    It was decided that this was not justiciable.

    He says that the courts will look to see if issues are legal or political in nature.

    Sir Declan adds that in devising a Bill of Rights the legislature will have to decide how it "wants to see that held to account, either politically or through the courts".

  10. Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights

    Emma Sheerin

    Committee Chair Emma Sheerin of Sinn Féin calls the meeting to order.

    The members run through some initial committee business before this afternoon's witness session.

    It's a briefing from the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan.

  11. What's on the agenda this afternoon?

    We're back from lunch and this afternoon we're joining the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights.

    Here's a quick look at what's coming up.

    NI Assembly
  12. Time for lunch


    Committee Chair Paula Bradley wraps up the meeting for this week.

    We'll be back in Room 29 at 14:00 for a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee for a Bill of Rights with a briefing from the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan.

    Do re-join us then.

    In the meantime we've off to grab a quick sandwich and a coffee.

  13. In other news: Call for 'aligned' north-south Covid Christmas rules

    Leo Varadkar

    Reports that Leo Varadkar wants the Irish government to advise against travel from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland over Christmas have been criticised.

    The tánaiste (Irish deputy PM) reportedly made the remarks to a meeting of his parliamentary party.

    Sinn Féin said it showed "no awareness" of cross-border communities.

    DUP and SDLP politicians called for better communication between Stormont and Dublin over Covid-19 restrictions.

    Read more on this story here.

  14. Why is sign language legislation being proposed in NI?

    Karen McCallion

    Karen McCallion from RaISe joins the committee to discuss the “key points” around why legislation for sign language is being proposed in NI.

    These include:

    • difficulties in finding baseline data on the number of British and Irish sign language users in NI which will make future planning difficult
    • addressing the different attitudes to deafness
  15. What is RaISe?


    The panelists briefing the committee are from RaISe, but what exactly is it?

    It's the Assembly's Research and Information Service.

    The body is made up of a number of subject specialists and library professionals who provide research and information support.

    You’ll find all of the information they provide in their bespoke blog.

  16. In other news: US politicians call for public inquiry in Finucane murder


    Twenty-four members of the United States Congress have called for a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.

    The solicitor was 39 when he was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in his north Belfast home.

    His family have campaigned ever since for a public inquiry to establish the full scale of security force collusion.

    The 24 signed a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for such an investigation to be confirmed.

    Read more about this story here.

  17. Licensing and Registration of Clubs briefing

    Assembly research briefer

    Next on the agenda is a briefing from assembly researchers on the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill.

    The bill includes measures aimed at tackling alcohol misuse, promoting responsible consumption and providing support for the hospitality industry and tourism.

    The researchers provide an in-depth commentary on the proposed legislation.

    It's to be followed by research briefings on the Registration of Clubs (Accounts) Regulations (NI) 2020 and the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Act (NI) 2011 (Commencement No.6) Order (NI) 2020.

  18. Covid charity-support fund: 645 applicants, 501 successful

    DUP MLA Robin Newton asks the charities why they didn’t apply for funding from the department.

    Barry Macauley says Stroke Association read the criteria and had reserves which would have made it ineligible.

    “What was the point in us wasting days on an application that was clearly not going to go through?”

    Sarah Quinlan from The Children's Heartbeat Trust says her charity was in the same boat.

    Robin Newton

    Mr Newton reads from a letter that the committee received about the Covid-support scheme for charities.

    There were 645 applicants, 501 were eligible, while 144 “did not receive support under the scheme”.

    “We now know that the criteria needs to be much broader to support a wide range of charities to reflect their particular circumstances,” says CO3’s Nora Smith.

    Paula Bradley thanks the witnesses and the committee takes a break before the next item.

  19. 'What sort of tightrope are charities walking?'

    Mark Durkan

    The SDLP's Mark Durkan joins the meeting by video link.

    He asks about charities with cash reserves being ineligible for support.

    "What sort of tightrope are charities walking?" he asks.

    "The reality is we've already seen a reduction in services as part of the cost-cutting exercise in order to protect dwindling reserves," says Nora Smith of CO3.

    She says some charities have already put redundancy procedures in place.