New Justice Minister inherits a list of problems in a tough brief

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with new Justice Minister Claire Sugden.

Independent minister Claire Sugden faces a hefty task as the new Justice Minister, the most controversial of all the government departments and the one facing arguably the most sweeping reforms.

Budget cuts to the PSNI, with increasing pressure to police both past and present amid an ever shrinking financial package has been never far from the political agenda.

Pressures on policing from the loyalist protest at Twaddell in north Belfast and the looming marching season along with an increased terror threat from dissident republicans will mean that Ms Sugden is going straight into a financial dilemma with tough decisions ahead.

Head of the Police Federation Mark Lindsay said the PSNI’s ability to “curtail and degrade terrorists cannot be eroded by balance sheet politics”.

Cuts to the legal aid bill and root and branch reform of Northern Ireland's judicial system brought the former Justice Minister David Ford into conflict with the legal profession.

This resulted in a strike by solicitors that left hundreds of defendants without representation and barristers withdrawing from all new criminal cases that required legal aid. However, a number of law firms did agree to work for reduced payments.

The minister must also oversee reform to speed up the judicial process with Northern Ireland lagging behind in terms of time-scale in getting criminal cases to trial.

As the daughter of a former prison officer the ongoing crisis in Northern Ireland's prison estate will be a part of her job, a area that may be personally challenging.

Maghaberry has been subject to a series of damning inspection reports with troubles around a retirement package to make room for new recruits to a prison service in need of modernisation.

Republican prisoners remain on protest and with sickness levels increasingly high and the murders of two prison officers David Black and Adrian Ismay, the problems facing the new minister are many.

Without the support of a party machine the minister will rely heavily on her own judgment and the support of departmental civil servants to assist her through what will be a long list of tough and at times unpopular decisions.


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