The Caleb Foundation response to Mr Jim Allister MLA's consultation on his proposal for a Bill to regulate the appointment of Special Advisers at Stormont.  



The Caleb Foundation, which represents a broad spectrum of evangelical Protestants outside the three main Protestant churches, welcomes the opportunity to respond to Mr Jim Allister’s consultation paper on the proposal for a Special Advisers Bill.

In general terms, we welcome this paper and the proposals contained in it.

This response follows the questions as set out in the consultation paper.

Question 1

“Do you agree that there is a case for reform of the system through legislation?”– YES.

We accept that there is a need to reform the current arrangements in order to create greater transparency and public confidence in the appointment and role of Special Advisers (SPADs). We also feel that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 would be a useful template as a basis for local legislation.

 Question 2

“It is proposed that anyone with a serious criminal conviction should be prohibited from holding the position of Special Adviser. Do you agree?”– YES.

 Question 3

“It is suggested that the threshold for disqualification should be a custodial sentence of 5 years. Alternatives could be 10 years or a sentence of life imprisonment, or another tariff. Which do you think is appropriate as the sentence which should trigger disqualification?”– We would opt here for an alternative suggestion.

Whilst we agree that, in general terms, a sentence of 5 years would be acceptable as a threshold, we wonder whether some consideration should also be given to the nature of the crime, as that could also have a bearing on a person’s suitability for a particular role. For example, if a person has been convicted of a finance related offence (maybe even one which does not attract a custodial sentence) he/she might well be unsuitable to hold a position as a SPAD in some Departments (eg DFP) or perhaps in all. Or, a person with a child abuse conviction might not be suitable in, say DE or DHSSPS. (We are not sure what bearing the provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (NI) Order 1978 might have on all this if the sentence was less than 30 months or not a custodial sentence at all).

We would also wonder about a situation in which a repeat offender who received a series of convictions, all of which stopped short of a custodial sentence and who demonstrated no remorse for his/her past, was considered acceptable, whereas a person who had been found guilty of a single custodial offence and who had demonstrated genuine remorse and repentance for his/her past was deemed by this proposed legislation to be unacceptable.

Question 4

“It is proposed that the prohibition on holding office, because of a serious criminal conviction, should apply not just to new appointees but also to those already in post. Do you agree?”– YES.

Question 5

“It is proposed to include provisions as to procedural fairness for any affected person already in post so as to comply with Article 6 ECHR. Such could include a timeframe for notification, a right to make representations and a body to verify due process. Do you agree?”YES.

Question 6

“Should we introduce legislation, as in GB, to govern the appointment and conduct of Special Advisers including annual reports on numbers and costs?”– YES.

Our comments on question 1 above refer. We also feel strongly that SPADs should be security cleared.

Question 7

“How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on human rights?”– POSITIVELY

It will defend the human rights of society if those with serious criminal convictions are unable to occupy influential positions at high levels in Government.

Question 8

“How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on equality of opportunity?”– POSITIVELY

It should have a positive impact as it will improve on the current arrangements, but much depends on the final legislation and associated code(s) of conduct. The nature of the role is such that it might not always be possible to guarantee equality of opportunity in its broadest sense – eg SPADs would normally share their Minister’s political ideology.

We would also refer again to our response to question 3. The proposed legislation could adversely impact upon a person who had served a single custodial sentence but who had genuinely repented, whereas a habitual offender whose sentence stopped short of the proposed custodial threshold would not be adversely impacted.

 Question 9

“Do you have any comments on the likely cost/financial implications of the proposed legislation?”- NO