Elections are to take place in the first Thursday in May in every fourth calendar year following that for which the predecessor was elected. This term was extended to five years by the Northern Ireland Act 2014. The Secretary of State may change the date by order for periods of up to two months before or after the specified day. The Assembly is to meet within eight days after the poll.
If the Assembly passes a resolution that it should be dissolved, the Secretary of State shall propose a date for the poll. A two-thirds majority of the Assembly is required.
If the requisite period ends without the offices of First and Deputy First Minister being filled, as set out in the section on the Executive, the Secretary of State is to propose a date for the poll for the election of the next Assembly.
If the Secretary of State proposes a date, an Order in Council may be made directing that the date of the poll shall instead of that determined in accordance with the above legislation, shall be the date proposed and provide for the Assembly to be dissolved on the specified date.
The members of the Assembly shall be returned for the parliamentary constituencies of Northern Ireland. Each constituency returns six members.
The voter is to be by way of a single transferable vote. A single transferable vote must be capable of giving the voter’s order of preference for the candidates at an election. It must be capable of being transferred to the next choice if the vote is not needed to give the prior choice a necessary quota of votes
Orders may be made in relation to elections and matters appertaining to them. The orders may make provision as to
- persons entitled to vote
- registration of such persons;
- securing that no person stands as a candidate for more than one constituency;
- determining the date of the poll at a by-election;
The Secretary of State may by order make provisions for filling of vacancies in the Assembly’s membership. This may be by way of by-election or substitutes or such other manner and method of filling vacancies, as is prescribed.
Certain persons are disqualified from the membership of the Assembly. This includes Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant or Lieutenant for a county or county borough, members of the House of Commons and members of Dáil Éireann. A person is not disqualified for membership of the Assembly only by reason that he is a peer or a Lord Spiritual.
A person who is disqualified may not be validly elected. A person who becomes disqualified vacates the seat.
Persons may be disqualified by reason of bankruptcy or being subject to certain provisions of the mental health legislation. The proceedings of the Assembly are not to be invalidated by disqualification.
A person who claims that a person is disqualified or was disqualified may apply to the High Court for a declaration to that effect. The person must give security for costs in the application.
In limited circumstances, the Assembly may disregard a disqualification.
Each Assembly is to elect a Speaker (formerly called the Presiding Officer) and two deputies. The Presiding Officer or the deputy is to hold office until the conclusion of the next election unless he resigns, ceases to be a member of the Assembly otherwise than by dissolution or an alternative is elected.
The Speaker’s functions may be exercised by a deputy when the office is vacant or when he is unable to act. Standing orders may make provision for the participation of the Presiding Officer and deputies including in voting. The Presiding Officer must be elected with cross-community support.
The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission consists of the Speaker and a prescribed number of members of the Assembly (five) as provided under the standing orders. The Commission is to provide the Assembly with property, staff and services. The Assembly may give general or specific directions in connection with its functions.
Proceedings by or against the Assembly other than on the Crown side of the Queen’s Bench Division are instituted by or against the Commission on behalf of the Assembly.
The proceedings of the Assembly are to be regulated by standing orders.
If 30 members petition the Assembly expressing concern about a matter which is to be voted on, the vote on that matter shall require cross-community support. Standing orders shall provide that the matter to which a petition relates may be referred, to a Committee provided for under the Belfast Agreement.
Standing orders shall make provision for a register of members’ interests. They shall require members of the Assembly who has a financial interest in any matter or interest of any other kind, specified in the standing orders to declare that interest before taking part in proceedings relating to that matter.
Standing orders may provide for preventing or restricting participation in proceedings of the Assembly by a member with a registrable interest, or an interest above, in a matter to which the proceedings relate.
Standing order shall prohibit members of the Assembly from advocating or initiating any cause or matter on behalf of any person, by means specified in the standing order, in consideration of any payment or benefit in kind. They shall prohibit urging, in consideration of a payment or benefit in kind, any other member of the Assembly to advocate or initiate any cause or matter on behalf of any person by any such means.
Standing orders may exclude from proceedings of the Assembly, persons who contravene the above provisions. They may provide for the withdrawal of rights and privileges for a period of exclusion. A person who takes part in proceedings without having complied with the provisions or contravenes any of the above provisions is guilty of an offence. He may be liable on summary conviction to a fine up to level 5 on the standard scale. The proceedings may only be taken with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Signing of Bill and Proceedings
Orders in Council may be made to provide for the form and manner of preparation and publication of Letters Patent signed by Her Majesty’s own hand signifying Assent to a Bill of the Assembly. If the First Minister and the deputy First Minister acting jointly so direct, impressions with the same device as the Great Seal of Northern Ireland shall be taken in such manner, as is specified. Such impression shall be known as the Wafer Great Seal of Northern Ireland; and to be kept in accordance with the directions of the First and deputy First Minister acting jointly.
If the Wafer Great Seal of Northern Ireland has been applied to Letters Patent mentioned above, the document is to have the same validity as if it had been passed under the Great Seal of Northern Ireland.
For the purposes of the law of defamation, absolute privileges attach to the making of a statement in proceedings in the Assembly and the publication of a statement under the Assembly’s authority.
A person is not guilty of contempt of Court under the strict liability rule as publisher of any matter in the course of proceedings of the Assembly which relate to a Bill or subordinate legislation to the extent that it consists of a fair and accurate report of such proceedings made in good faith. Members may resign by notice to the Presiding Officer.
Witnesses and Information
The Assembly may require any person to attend for the purpose of giving evidence and to produce documents in his custody, relating to any matters within the competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Executive.
The power is not exercisable in relation to persons who have been Minister for the Crown, or a person in Crown employment, in connection with discharge of functions prior to the date on which the Northern Ireland Act 2000 came into force or during a period while functions were transferred or are exercisable by a Minister of the Crown.
The power is not exercisable in relation to judges of any court, members of the tribunals exercising judicial powers, persons discharging functions of anybody whose functions relate to reserved matters or excepted matters.
Power may be exercised by a committee if the committee is expressly authorised to do so by standing orders.
The Speaker shall give the person in question, notice of the time and place at which he is to attend and the particular matters relating to which he is required to give evidence and documents, or the documents of the type which he is to produce.
A person is not obliged to answer questions and produce documents which would be privileged in Court. Subject to this, a person to whom a notice has been given who refuses or fails to attend proceedings; refuses to answer questions; deliberately alters, suppresses or conceals documents or refuses to produce them, is guilty of an offence.
He is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or imprisonment not exceeding three months. It is an excuse that a person had a reasonable excuse for failure or refusal. Proceedings for the offence require the consent of the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Presiding Officer may be authorised to administer oaths and may require persons to take an oath. A person who refuses to take an oath when required is guilty of an offence. He may be subject on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 or up to three months imprisonment.
Salaries and Allowances
The Assembly is to pay members such salaries and allowances as they may determine. There may be provisions for higher salaries for Ministers and junior Ministers; Speakers; officers of Northern Ireland Assembly Commission; or other officers specified in orders.
Determination in relation to remuneration are to provide for reduced salaries if a person is also a member of either House of Parliament (no longer permissible) or the European Parliament.
Standing orders must include provision for the publication of determinations in relation to salaries and allowances.
The Assembly may make provision for pensions, gratuities and allowances for members who has ceased to be members of the Assembly or cease to hold one of the above ministerial or committee offices but remain members of the Assembly.
Members Commitment to Peaceful Means
The Assembly may resolve that a Minister or junior Minister be not paid a salary or a specified part of the salary because he is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, or because of his failure to observe any other terms of the pledge of his office. There is a similar provision in relation to the members of parties, whereby the salary may not be paid, or it may be reduced for this reason.
A resolution shall not be moved unless it is supported by at least 30 members; it is moved by the First and deputy First Minister jointly, or is moved by the Presiding Officer after reference by the Secretary of State to him. A resolution may only be passed with cross-community support.
If the monitoring Commission make a report containing a recommendation about steps the Assembly might consider taking; the taking of those steps by the Assembly requires a resolution above; the motion is put and does not obtain cross-community support, then the Secretary of State may, in relation to the salary payable to the Minister or junior Minister or in respect of the political parties, direct that the whole or part of the salary payable shall not be payable.
The Secretary of State may only exercise the power where he or she is satisfied that the Minister, junior Minister or party concerned is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means; or is not committed to such means or to observing the pledge of office.
There are similar provisions regarding the reduction of Financial Assistance to those applicable above in respect of ministerial and political party pay. The reduction may take place because the party is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means or is not committed or its members who are Ministers are not committed to observing their pledge of office.
A resolution may censure a Minister, a political party or a junior Minister for the above reasons. It requires the support of at least 30 Assembly members or be moved by the First Minister and deputy First Minister acting jointly; or be moved by the Presiding Officer in pursuant to notice of Secretary of State. The resolution requires cross-community support.
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