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  • David Ford MLA
    1 PM yesterday

    Alliance MLA David Ford has welcomed the establishment of a specialist domestic violence court in Derry-Londonderry.

    The Domestic Violence Perpetrators' Programme will work with offenders to modify their behaviour, aiming to reduce reoffending and encourage more victims to come forward. Around 30 offenders will take part in the nine-month pilot programme.

    "The new arrangements for a problem solving domestic violence court follow on from the work done by Mr McElholm, the district judge, in arranging separate sittings of his court for domestic violence cases," said Mr Ford.

    "When I visited the local courthouse as Minister of Justice, I heard about the benefits achieved, allowing social workers and support groups such as Women's Aid to make better use of their time.

    "This new arrangement will allow for closer involvement by judges in cases before a perpetrator is sentenced. I have personally discussed with judges in New York and in London how this can reinforce the work of probation officers and social workers in helping to rehabilitate offenders and better protect the community.

    "I am pleased we are now seeing the first such specialist court operational in Northern Ireland and believe it will benefit the victims of domestic abuse and the wider community by reducing re-offending.

    "I congratulate all those involved in this initiative - the Lord Chief Justice, Mr McElholm and his judicial colleagues, the Probation Board and local probation staff, and officials from the Department of Justice. I look forward to the establishment of other specialist courts across Northern Ireland to meet the needs of our community."

  • David Ford MLA Pen
    last Wednesday

    Alliance MLA David Ford has called on the DUP and Sinn Féin to clarify they will record all Departmental meetings in any future Executive, after the Head of the Civil Service said meetings with the parties' Ministers were not minuted to prevent embarrassment of the parties.

    David Sterling told the RHI Inquiry the meetings were not documented in case they were later subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act as it may have shown "things that might have been unpopular being considered".

    Mr Ford, a former Executive Minister, said it was not standard practice for Ministers.

    "There was an understanding when any meetings happened, particularly when policies were decided upon, the Freedom of Information Act applied and any discussions were discoverable. It appears that was not the case in these instances.

    "If there was a policy by the two biggest parties to not have matters record, there was a duty on the Civil Service to say that is not how the Civil Service operates and things must be recorded. Informal discussions can happen but meetings when policy is being decided should be on the record. Potential embarrassment on behalf of the Minister or party cannot be used as a reason to not record something or subsequently release it if requested.

    "There needs to be an agreed record of the decision taken and the basis on which it was done so. That's the way things have been done in my experience and that's the way they should be done across every Department. But it appears it was not the case in Departments under the control of the DUP and Sinn Féin - where things were decided and nothing recorded as to why. Those two parties need to clarify whether any reformed Executive would be subject to the same draconian approach by Ministers more interested in saving their own skin than being transparent to the public."
  • David Ford MLA
    8 March

    Alliance MLA David Ford has welcomed a High Court ruling that the former First Minister's decision to block funding for a plan to deal with legacy inquests was "unlawful and flawed".

    Ex-Justice Minister Mr Ford was speaking after a High Court judge said Arlene Foster's decision, that £150 million allocated as part of the Stormont House Agreement should await the outcome of an overall package dealing with all legacy issues, was wrong.

    "As Minister of Justice, I worked with the Lord Chief Justice to give additional funding for legacy inquests and the justice agencies with responsibility for supporting them. However, my request for the then Executive to access Treasury funding was never tabled for Executive consideration, as the former First Minister was opposed to it," he said.

    "Today's ruling is welcome and makes it clear Arlene Foster's decision to refuse funding was motivated by political considerations. While the money will not deal with all inquests, it will get the ball rolling and bring many families closer to justice for their loved ones.

    "Alliance has always argued the funding should go ahead, irrespective of political agreement. It is now up to the Secretary of State to work with the Department of Justice and Lord Chief Justice to get the process going, a process which should have begun over two years ago."
  • David Ford MLA Pen
    1 March

    Alliance MLA David Ford has called for the inquiry into undercover policing in England and Wales to also cover activities in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

    The inquiry is investigating the activity of undercover officers, their conduct and impact of their activities. The Scottish Government has now called for it to be extended there.

    "When I was Minister of Justice I called on the Home Secretary to allow the inquiry to also consider actions of undercover police officers from England and Wales who were infiltrating environmental groups which were active across the UK. The Home Office refused to extend the inquiry to the whole UK," said Mr Ford.

    "It is becoming increasingly clear the actions of police officers were carried out continuously across the entire UK, and indeed into the Irish Republic. It is not tenable to say the inquiry must stop taking evidence when undercover officers got on a plane or a boat.

    "The groups infiltrated were not terrorists but environmental campaigners whose views are now mainstream. It is entirely legitimate to question the activities of both the officers responsible and those who directed them. This applies across the whole country.

    "Confidence in policing requires openness and transparency. Nowhere is this more important than in Northern Ireland. I join the Scottish Justice Secretary in calling for the inquiry's remit to be extended and am writing to the Home Secretary, calling on her to act."

  • David Ford MLA
    23 February

    Alliance MLA David Ford has said funding for legacy inquests should be released immediately without the need for any side deal after Sinn Féin claimed an arrangement had been agreed with the UK Government.

    Gerry Kelly claimed it was part of the draft agreement from the talks process leaked this week and would have seen the UK Government release funding for legacy inquests. The DUP stated they were unaware of any alleged deal.

    "When I was Minister of Justice, I worked with the Lord Chief Justice to give additional funding for legacy inquests and the justice agencies with responsibility for supporting them. However, my request for the then Executive to access Treasury funding was never tabled for Executive consideration, as the former First Minister was opposed to it," said Mr Ford.

    "The victims of the Troubles deserve justice and they deserve it now. We need to see the legacy inquest funding released immediately because it is the right thing to do, not it being subject to a side deal or rumours of an agreement. I wrote to the Secretary of State earlier this week to urge her to do just that and I encourage her to do so without further delay.

    "In addition, any consultation into the mechanisms agreed at Stormont House needs to have the proposed question on a statute of limitations for soldiers accused of unlawful Troubles killings removed. Any move towards that could result in a gradual move to a general amnesty for all, which would utterly undermine the rule of law everywhere."

  • David Ford MLA Pen
    21 February

    Alliance MLA David Ford has said last week's collapse of the talks process should not prevent justice for victims of legacy cases.

    The former Justice Minister said yesterday's statement by the Secretary of State, in which she committed to supporting the reform of legacy inquests, once again highlighted the issue. Mr Ford said she could release additional funding immediately, as he had attempted to do so in his previous role, adding Karen Bradley should also push ahead with a Government consultation without a controversial proposed statute of limitations for soldiers accused of unlawful killings during the Troubles.

    "According to leaks from the talks, the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to expedite legacy inquests, but thanks to last week's collapse, that will likely not happen now and bereaved victims will continue to suffer from the delay in holding inquests. There is no justification for that," said Mr Ford.

    "While Minister of Justice, I carried out work with the Lord Chief Justice to advance legacy inquests by giving additional funding for inquests and the justice agencies with responsibility for supporting inquests. However, my request for the then Executive to access Treasury funding was never tabled for Executive consideration, as the former First Minister was opposed to it.

    "I welcome Karen Bradley's commitment yesterday but she can release additional funding now, on the basis of the Department of Justice case from two years ago. Similarly, there is no reason to delay the consultation on the legacy institutions, which were agreed at Stormont House. There is, however, a need to remove any proposed question on a statute of limitations.

    "A quick decision by the Secretary of State would provide some measure of comfort to victims who must not be forced to wait any longer for political agreement before they are given justice."

  • David Ford MLA
    1 February

    Alliance MLA David Ford has said any restored Executive needs Ministers prepared to take difficult decisions while in office.

    Mr Ford, who was Minister of Justice for six years, said there was "little point" in having Ministers who would not do so, especially regarding the Budget. He added during his time in office, he saw many examples of Ministers who were not prepared to take decisions because they would be unpopular in the short-term.

    "As Minister, I oversaw a programme of transformation which protected frontline services, including by our voluntary sector partners. In addition, there were significant reductions in the budget for the core Department, especially in back office services.

    "For one example, I decided to close courthouses which were not needed, in order to save significant funding for the Courts Service and the Prison Service. Yet when my successor reversed that decision, MLAs from other parties praised what was a damaging choice, which even now is adding to the Department's financial problems.

    "My colleague Stephen Farry also tried to reduce the subsidy to teacher training, which results in Northern Ireland training far more teachers than we need, at a cost to the local Budget. This decision was called-in to the Executive and overturned by the four other parties.

    "We cannot afford such cheap populism. Budgets need to be directed to where the money will be most effective and major reforms are needed, in services such as health and education. The question has to be asked as we seek to restore devolution - are potential Ministers from other parties now capable of taking the difficult decisions they failed to take in the past?"

  • David Ford MLA
    30 January

    Alliance MLA David Ford has said proposed new boundary changes are "bizarre".

    Under the proposed new constituencies, Northern Ireland's overall seats will be reduced from 18 to 17, however, Belfast is set to retain its four seats, a move South Antrim MLA Mr Ford said was not sustainable or practical.

    "The original proposals in 2016 included three constituencies for Belfast, which is now entitled to fewer than three seats within the city boundary. Now the plans show four seats for the city. This means the boundaries of the four Belfast city constituencies would extend well beyond the city and far into the countryside.

    "To sustain those four seats, the proposals see a seat lost elsewhere and therefore the likes of Newtownards and Banbridge end up in the same proposed constituency. That is just bizarre.

    "This is not an issue of political bias but maintaining social links and not disrupting the established patterns of communities across Northern Ireland."
  • David Ford MLA Pen
    December 2017

    Alliance MLA David Ford has welcomed the findings of an inspection report which describes progress at Magilligan Prison as "immensely encouraging".

    The inspection was conducted by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales. It said improvements had been made in a number of key areas and praised the leadership within the prison.

    Former Justice Minister Mr Ford said the reforms, many of which had been put in place while he was in post, were a tribute to staff there.

    "This highlights much of the reform programme started while I was Justice Minister and is a tribute to staff from the Prison Service, the South-Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and North West Regional College, all of whom carried out sterling work to produce positive outcomes for prisoners.

    "It shows what can be achieved despite the poor conditions of many of the buildings. What is now essential is the Department of Finance giving the Department of Justice money for the new build work which has been planned for some years."
  • David Ford MLA
    December 2017

    Alliance MLA David Ford has said any amnesty for either security forces accused of crimes in the Troubles or paramilitaries would undermine the rule of law.

    The former Justice Minister was speaking after four MPs called for legislation providing an effective amnesty for anyone accused of crimes linked to the Troubles. It follows claims a question on a
    statute of limitations for soldiers would be added to a Government consultation into the Stormont House Agreement.

    "The four MPs, two Labour and two Conservative, correctly stated any such statute of limitations which only covered soldiers would fall foul of international law. However, even widening it out to include paramilitaries would still result in the same issues.

    "An amnesty would not only contravene international law but would be a slap in the face to victims, many of whom still remain without justice. We have already seen the reaction to the discovery of the on-the-runs scheme, which only added to the hurt suffered by victims. Such an amnesty would also be an insult to the great majority of police officers and soldiers who upheld the rule of law in very difficult circumstances.

    "Alliance fully supports the consultation into the legacy of the past but we remain quite clear it should stick to what is already contained in the Stormont House Agreement. Anything further, particularly around statute of limitations, risks throwing the already limited progress made on victims' issues away."