10/02/2016 Stormont Today


Stormont Today returns for a special sitting as MLAs debate the Justice Bill.

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Hello and welcome to this extra edition of Stormont Today,


where MLAs have spent the day debating a range of amendments


The complex and controversial issue of abortion


in cases of fatal foetal abnormality


was always likely to dominate proceedings -


but there was another story that got people talking in the corridors


here - the fallout from the DUP MLA Jim Wells'


whispered comments about women


at the beginning of a recent Public Accounts Committee meeting.


An Alliance MLA behind one of this evening's


amendments regrets what he sees as the restrictions


placed on some of his fellow Members.


Sadly there are those who will make their decisions today due to the


influence of party whips, rather than through free expression of


their conscience. But MLAs do vote to help the law try


and keep up with modern technology. At the time the legislation was


drafted, nobody envisaged the type of world we would be living in


today, where we all have smartphones capable of taking photographs,


videos and they are capable of being shared online instantly.


And I'm joined by Professor Rick Wilford


for his take on another busy day inside - and outside -


It was over eight hours into today's added sitting before Members


got to the main event - the final set of amendments to be


including those dealing with abortion.


And the sitting ran late into the evening.


The contentious proposal was to allow abortion in situations


of fatal foetal abnormality and the arguments on both sides


have been well rehearsed both inside and outside the chamber.


some of the parties made their positions clear.


If there is another place to do legislation apart from Stormont, I


would like to hear or it is in Northern Ireland. I think the


objective for the DUP's working group is to get us down until after


the election. They have set a deadline of six months. Currently


the looking not in our but the Ulster Unionist Party also, they


have a free vote. Another one that has come across two hours this


morning. We will see where we are in a few hours. Our MLAs will both of


their individual conferences dictate and I do not know how that is


because I do not think it would be appropriate as leader to ask them


and give the belt I was trying to influence them, because I think they


know from my public statements that I would support a change in the law.


I am uncomfortable as a man telling a woman what to do with the body.


The SDLP will be voting against each of those amendments. We are a


pro-life party. These amendments have been stuck on to adjust


something which never was to deal with such an emotive and


controversial issue as abortion. We believe that women should have the


option to decide if they choose to go ahead with the pregnancy in


relation to fatal foetal abnormality. This is about women


making the decision and we believe that they should have the option to


terminate or they have been victims of sexual crime where a woman's life


was in danger. -- or where a woman's life.


And Professor Rick Wilford is with me now.


Rick, it's a subject that's been discussed many times in the past.


And it continues to divide opinion in the chamber.


It is, not only with between the parties but within some of. If you


were going to tally up which we devote me go, I certainly think that


the evidence and foreword by Alliance will be defeated. There


should be at least low 40s in favour of the amendment in relation to


sexual crime and foetal foetal abnormality. There are two things


worth observing, the DUP chose not to voice concern on this occasion,


maybe because they felt they had the numbers on the side of the argument


anyway, namely the proposal to establish this panel, which will


take six months to come up with what the party hopes will be an agreed


position in relation to fatal foetal abnormality. That pitted comfortable


beyond the Assembly election in May. I do not think there is necessarily


going to prevent the issue being erased during the course of the


campaign itself. -- being raised. I wonder whether there might be one or


two chinks, if you like. It seems to be united front in the part of the


DUP imposing these amendments and maybe one or two who are a bit


morbid bowl on the issue... I think it is an issue that is worth


pressing MLAs on and I certainly think the Ulster Unionist Party is


on the right thing in allowing members to vote according to their


own consciences because this is ultimately a key personal matter. It


is permanently a matter for women. And there is something, I think,


better in the modes of some when you see a chamber dominated by men as it


were determining and governing what might happen on the citizens of


front. What do you make of the issue being dealt with in this manner, as


a series of amendments to a much broader justice bill? It is not


unusual. Quite often you get bills which are pejoratively described as


blunderbuss pieces of legislation, in the sense that they have lots of


clothes off and amendments and all the rest. I do not think it is an


attempt to, if you like, bury the issue. One could not because it is


so controversial. But it is a means of trying to, as it were, pushed


through a set of changes in one market until the that it says the


abortion amendments are included within it, I think, is not an


appropriate. Thank you very much indeed.


So let's get a flavour of the debate in the chamber.


Today, Mr Speaker, I am asking members of this Assembly to take a


decision based on this debate on how all the circumstances in history


preceding it have influenced their conscience. Sadly, there are those


who will make their decision due to the influence of party whips rather


than through free expression of their conscience. This issue


requires, demands, careful consideration from the medical


professionals, from practitioners, from families, from Essex and legal


experts, to ensure sufficient and proper clarity and guidance are the


hallmarks of the way forward. George Horner has stated that as it stands,


the law is not compatible with human rights. We, as legislators, should


first and foremost about legislation that is human rights compliant. This


series of amendments are proposing a major change to the law. Changing


the law in this area, if it is to be done, needs to proceed with great


care and widespread engagement with relevant stakeholders. On this


occasion, this simply has not happened. The background is the


Minister held a public on the station particularly around the


issue of foetal foetal abnormality there is considerable public


support. Foetal abnormality. My understanding, and the minister can


directly because I do not speak for him, is that whilst he would have


liked to have brought the FFA issue forward in this building could not


get through, which is why we are here now. Under this is not limited


to any conditions. -- under this amendment, fatal foetal abnormality


is not limited to any conditions. Could it be used to abort foetuses


with down syndrome or spina bifida? It has been made absolutely clear


and everything that has been said in terms of the department


consultation, in terms of the week this amendment is written, that we


are talking about a fatal abnormality. Let us not add further,


to oppose women suffering with such an issue, or indeed, to those who


have children who suffer from down syndrome or some other limiting


issue, which is not fatal. Making that comparison, you are straying


into extraordinarily dangerous territory. Justice Warner had this


to say, doctors know when a foetus has a fatal foetal abnormality. This


is primarily a medical diagnosis, not a legal judgment. Will we not


trust doctors to diagnose a fatal foetal abnormality?


shows no sign of finding common ground,


there was one part of the Justice Bill


the offence of posting revealing videos or pictures online


The DUP's Alastair Ross tabled the amendment


to make the act a criminal offence in Northern Ireland


and he found support from across the chamber.


I want to the committee does not propose amendments to create a new


offence of disclosing private sector photographs and films with the


intent to cause distress, generally known as revenge pornography. We are


looking at the creation of an offence similar to that created in


England and Wales by the criminal Justice and Courts act earlier this


year. Last year, sorry. Such behaviour is already totally


unacceptable and it should be recognised that there are a number


of existing laws in Northern Ireland to prosecute offenders, such as the


offence of harassment, improper use of a communications network, even


blackmail. The other point is the usual period on summary conviction


would be improvement for a term not unseating six months, a fine or


both. It is an issue of foetal which is what we have further


consideration stage four. I am happy to except the will of the committee


that we should proceed to make this amendment today. Bear I am sure


members are aware of the stress, devastating and humiliation caused


to victims when intimate films of autographs at the Usher with an


individual, often had a trusted in possibly, I'd insured worldly. --


widely. Most of -- then who they have trusted implicitly, as sharers


widely on the Internet. Prosecutions could potentially be brought forward


with current legislation but at the time it was drafted, nobody


envisaged the day before we would be living in today, where we love


smartphones capable taking photographs or videos, capable of


being shared online almost instantly. Therefore, I think the


law needs to keep the pace with some of the technological changes and


recognise the world live in today. Perhaps there are pieces of it you


were off, that it showed us that there were gaps in legislation with


the Internet and particularly around a particular issue which people now


call revenge porn. I in the chair is correct when he says, I know the


Minister himself is accepting these amendments and I accept in how we


deal with other aspects of this as we go forward. Because I think it is


important and it is important for this reason, there are many people


who are being subjected to this and they feel vulnerable and isolated.


Another people who are using it for control and coercion and then either


very, very clear signal that will not be tolerated. In terms of the


amendment tabled by the Chair of the Justice committee in relation to


what is described as revenge ash macro revenge porn. I think we have


all been horrified to hear of the bad experiences that people... Some


young, and some of the have had in relation to this and it seems to be


a modern-day evil. So I think I very much welcome the fact that we are at


least drinking the insulation in line with England and Wales. --


bringing legislation in line. And that section of the Justice Bill


was passed on an oral vote. Another part of the bill concerns


the Prison Ombudsman. The bill would place the office


on a statutory footing and allow the Ombudsman to launch


an investigation at his While most of the seventeen


amendments in this section were uncontentious, a Sinn Fein


proposal which would compel people to assist in Ombudsman's


investigations proved less so. In relation to the power to compel


witness amendments 47 and 48 which Mr McConnell has tabled provide a


power to enable the ombudsman to compel a person to assist in any


investigation is it an offence and liable to a fine of exceeding level


three if that is refused. This issue was raised with the committee by the


Human Rights Commission who consider the effectiveness of the numbers


and's investigations will be augmented by calling witnesses


interview. When we discussed the interview with the current


ombudsman, he believed it will be a cosmetic change and affect very few


deaths in custody or complaints investigated. This is the


opportunity to give the ombudsman capability and power to carry out


investigations to deal with compliments and to provide the


service of ensuring there is current accountability mechanisms in and


around our presence. -- our prisons. The idea of compelling someone to


give evidence and I certainly heard of this evidence given and he said


there were no issues and that is good and fine. I wouldn't question


it in anyway and that is a good state of affairs that the local


operating with all investigations, but as the powers perhaps widen and


parts we have seen under the minister's terms the powers of


investigation will widen. None of us can predict the future that is why


it is best that we give provision for the ombudsman if he sees fit or


if she sees fit in the future to have that power. Public person to


assist in any investigation under this, where not absolutely convinced


-- we not absolutely convinced it is a right and proper amendment in


relation to these matters. It's very difficult to conceive of a situation


where you could actually compound a person to assist. You might be able


to compel others and to attend somewhere or to arrive at some


office or whatever, but you can not control that person to assist. It is


almost the same as the fundamental concept of a criminal investigation


and the right to silence. To suggest that in this context you can compel


somebody, when in another context you clearly cannot comment you can


certainly make some but the attendant, but what point? In this


issue has arisen in other regards as well. It has a Briton in the past in


regards to the role of the police ombudsman, it arises in terms of


criminal investigations by the police every day. So I think we


would need to be very sure would how one would do that as well as there


was justification for doing it had at the moment, I do not see


anything, certainly the measure which already exists in the Bill


about penalties for those who would seek to obstruct the investigation


are absolutely right. That is a very different issue from pretending


somehow that you can actually compel somebody to give useful information


if they are unwilling to do so. Sinn Fein is to lodge a complaint


against the DUP MLA Jim Wells following an incident


in the Assembly yesterday. It's alleged he confronted


Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon Another complaint has already been


lodged against Mr Wells for alleged sexist comments he made


during a Public Accounts Committee Mr Wells says his remarks


have been misunderstood. Here's the official Assembly


footage of both incidents. And Rick has joined me


again for a final word. Not for the first time,


Jim Wells finds himself in a corner. I think in all recall the hot water


he got into during the general election campaign last year and now


here is at the centre of another political storm. Another storm of


controversy. As it was politicians worth their salt will recognise that


perception means an enormous amount in politics. And the fact is that


people perceive as remarks as being an instance of casual everyday


sexism. I'm not alleging that is what he intended, but that is the


way in which some people will have perceived it and I suspect it is not


going to do his prospects are getting a nomination for the DUP and


its constituency very much good. It's going to be, as it were, again,


at the centre of another row. This time of the alleged sexism. Brick,


thank you very much indeed. That is it for tonight. Do join me for the


The View Would. Thank you for watching.


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