Tackling Northern Ireland's crippling legal aid bill and dealing with problems in the prison system should be top priorities for the region's new Justice Minister, a Westminster Committee said today.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee released a report on the devolution of policing and justice powers after the move was secured in February's Hillsborough Castle agreement.
The political deal brokered by the DUP and Sinn Fein should see the transfer of the powers by April 12, but the committee's report on the issue said the new department of justice to be created under the move will face pressing issues.
The committee welcomed the devolution plan and urged the new Justice Minister, expected to be Alliance leader David Ford, to prioritise the multi-million pound legal aid bill and supporting the under-pressure prison service.
“We are delighted that the devolution process has been completed during the lifetime of this Parliament,” said committee chair Sir Patrick Cormack.
“When we assumed our duties in 2005, Northern Ireland had no functioning Executive or Assembly.
“The long process towards devolution has required immense reserves of patience, and that patience will be best rewarded by the successful transfer of policing and justice to the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland.”