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4 February 2010 Edition

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Policing and Justice - what it means to you

As the political negotiations continue in Belfast, one of those involved in the talks, Foyle Sinn Féin MLA and Policing Board member MARTINA ANDERSON, explains why the transfer of policing and justice is such a major issue.
People within our communities are deeply frustrated and angry with many elements of the justice system here.  
Not a week goes by without another heartbroken family forced to watch helplessly as death drivers and other criminals are given slaps on the wrists by judges who clearly have no understanding of what life is really like within our communities.
I have worked with a number of families in Derry who have been devastated by the lenient sentences handed down to the people responsible for the death of their loved ones. People like the family of Jim McFadden, who was murdered in 2007 and Kieran Doherty, who died in a car crash in 2008. The man convicted of causing 17-year-old Kieran’s death was sentenced to just two years in prison, while the three people who murdered Jim were jailed for five years, nine years and 14 years, respectively.
I have seen the heartbreak and raw pain that these families have endured. And when they see the killers of their loved ones handed such lenient sentences, it only compounds the pain.
It is cases like that which go to the heart of the need to transfer policing and justice powers. That is why Sinn Féin is working so hard to secure the transfer of policing and justice. This is a matter that is absolutely crucial to communities everywhere. People are sick to death of seeing thugs and hoods being arrested and freed on bail a couple of hours later.
At present we can hold the PSNI to account, but the judiciary and the wider justice system remains a law unto itself. Our communities are crying out for a justice system they can have faith in and the sooner we start building one by transferring these powers into the hands of locally accountable Ministers the better.
Without doubt – responsibility for our own destiny will be challenging. Criminal justice policy and crime prevention approaches would be determined and formed in consultation with local community organisations and of course local communities need to be engaging in the conversation about what it would mean to them and the opportunities that it presents to all of us.
There is a massive and complex set of legislative provisions to be transferred but that also means we have an opportunity to design a criminal justice strategy for the future that is a model of best practice.
A local minister and Department would assume full responsibility for criminal justice policy.  This would include:
  • Future legislation; the running of the PSNI;
  • The Prisons; the Courts and all community-based criminal justice services such as probation and crime prevention, legal aid provision, prosecution and forensic services, and
  • A role in the appointment of the judiciary and criminal justice inspection services.
And while that is a massive task to take on, the prize on offer is equally huge. As a republican, I am of course eager to see what is probably the greatest symbol of sovereignty – policing and justice  – transferred away from Britain and into the hands of Irish ministers. But this is about so much more than politics. It is about communities. It is about families. It is about people of all political and religious persuasions and none.  It is about putting in place the kind of justice system that will allow our people to feel safe and valued within their own homes and communities.
It is for that reason that Sinn Féin has invested so much time and effort in getting these powers transferred from London to Belfast.
The DUP signed up to this three years ago but if they continue to refuse to honour their commitments, then they will have to explain to their electorate why they valued the demands of the Orange Order over the right of their own community to a better future.
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