Assembly debates first justice bill in 40 years

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Ulster Unionist MLA David McNarry
Image caption,
UUP MLA David McNarry has criticised the new justice bill

The first Justice Bill to be considered by the Stormont assembly in 40 years has just passed its second stage after a day of debate.

The measure will now move to its committee stage.

The bill contains proposals for an offender levy, under which those convicted of crimes will have to pay between £5 and £50 into a victims of crime fund.

Justice Minister David Ford hopes the fund will raise £500,000 a year.

Other measures include the increased use of fixed penalties of either £40 or £80 for minor offences, improved treatment for victims and witnesses and wider use of video testimony for vulnerable witnesses.

The bill contains 108 clauses making it one of the biggest pieces of legislation Stormont has considered.

Other sections would create a new means test for those applying for legal aid and the merger of the current District Policing Partnerships with Community Safety partnerships.

Proposals to outlaw drunkenness, offensive chanting and ticket touting at sports grounds provoked some controversy, when the Ulster Unionist MLA David McNarry accused the justice minister of discriminating against soccer.

Mr McNarry said the subtext of the bill was that it discriminates against the Protestant working class.

Closing the debate, Mr Ford denied he was unduly targeting football.

He said aspects of the bill also applied to Gaelic and rugby.

Some politicians argued that the bill should have been more specific in tackling sectarian chanting.

Mr Ford said he had opted for the wider notion of "offence" because sectarianism was not properly defined in law.