Scope of the report
The Justice Committee warmly welcomes the Ministry of Justice’s commitment to draw up a new protocol putting its relationship with HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP)on a clearer and mutually agreed footing. The Committee also expresses its intention to establish a deeper relationship with HMIP, the other criminal justice inspectorates, and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman over the rest of this Parliament.
Bob Neill MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
"We have taken a close interest in the governance, independence and accountability of the criminal justice inspectorates which are sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office, including during pre-appointment scrutiny hearings with the Secretary of State’s new appointees as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, and as HM Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey. We think it is very important that the operational independence of these Inspectorates is put beyond doubt at an early stage in this Parliament. The public must have confidence that the Ministry is not trying to exert undue financial or political influence on the Chief Inspectors who are assessing their performance."
Letter from Nick Hardwick
In a letter of 1 December (PDF 6.25MB) which he copied to the Committee, the then HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, raised concerns about financial controls on the Inspectorate put in place by the Ministry last autumn, as well as the Ministry’s overall approach to the Inspectorate. The Committee held an evidence session to explore the relationship between HMIP, other criminal justice inspectorates and the MoJ on 20 January. This involved Nick Hardwick, the incoming HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke, the Ministry of Justice Permanent Secretary Richard Heaton and Indra Morris, Director General of Criminal Justice at the MoJ.
In his letter Nick Hardwick said:
"I am a Crown appointee, not a civil servant. My staff are hosted by the Ministry of Justice; we are not an MoJ team. I am accountable to Ministers and Parliament – not officials. Our position differs from most ALBs in that we are not making independent judgments on behalf of Ministers but inspecting and commenting on services for which Ministers and senior officials in our sponsor department are directly responsible. I have raised concerns about independence many times in the past when officials have not appeared to understand the position."
Mr Hardwick told the Committee that "I have generally been able to publish my reports and say what I want to say without let or hindrance", his relationship with the Ministry had not always been free of friction in other respects, as he made clear in his letter of 1 December.
Welcoming a protocol
In welcoming the Ministry’s intention to agree a protocol on setting out the terms of engagement between the Ministry and HMIP, the Committee recommends that the Ministry should consult a wider range of stakeholders on a draft, and that the protocol this should be in place well before the end of the first year of Mr Clarke’s term of office.
The Committee further recommends that the HMIP protocol should be used as the blueprint for equivalents for HM Inspectorate of Probation and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), which should be developed in parallel; and that the Attorney General should consider the introduction of a similar protocol for HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.
If the introduction of protocols does not prove effective in the first few years, the Committee says an alternative would be to revisit the statutory framework governing each of them with a view to redesigning and aligning the relevant legislative provisions.
Independent Monitoring Boards
Independent Monitoring Boards are an important component of the system of oversight of custodial establishments, and as the Ministry has undertaken to discuss their role with the Committee, the report makes it clear that the Committee would expect to be consulted if it brings forward any proposals to make significant changes to the remit or governance of IMBs.
Finally, the Committee has given some thought to how it might strengthen its relationship with the three relevant Chief Inspectors and the PPO over the course of this Parliament. In its report on the pre appointment scrutiny of Mr Clarke and Dame Glenys Stacey, the Committee recommended that each of them draw up a strategy for their Inspectorate within three months of taking office, and indicated that it would wish to hold an evidence session with them both to discuss those strategies. Given subsequent developments, the Committee considers that it may make sense for it to hold an evidence session covering all of these governance topics with the three Chief Inspectors and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman on an annual basis.
Bob Neill added:
"Good governance arrangements for criminal justice inspectorates are not an end in themselves: they are a vital means of ensuring the effective functioning of the criminal justice system, including in the important area of prison safety. It would be an indicator that something was seriously amiss if Inspectorate reports did not unsettle Ministers.
I hope the Committee’s recommendations will strengthen the independence of the inspectorates, and that over the course of this Parliament we will also be able to act as a bulwark for the Chief Inspectors, if needed, against any real or perceived threat to their independence of judgment."