Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 60 - 71)



  60.  Would you consider housing women and young girls in that unit, bearing in mind you have the space?
  (Mr Halward) We have to in certain circumstances. We have to if a girl of 14 has been sentenced.

  61.  Is that expediency or do you think that is sustainable?
  (Mr Halward) If one had a substantial proportion, a small group of girls in that category then one might look to deal with them in a separate unit. However, because it is never more than one it would be inhumane to keep that one person isolated from the rest of the population. So there is as much integration as we think is sensible with whoever happens to be in the women's prison at that time.

  62.  Did not Spandau Prison survive for 22 years with one prisoner? There is a precedent but I do not think Spandau comes under your remit.
  (Mr Halward) I personally would have difficulty in putting a young girl into that environment.

Mr McCabe

  63.  I want to turn to the question of accountability. That was obviously an area where this Committee had a number of concerns and a number of criticisms and some quite specific recommendations. It occurs to me that we are about 12 months down the line from that report. I am not aware that there has been too much action to address the question of accountability. I note that you say you are currently considering and examining ways of implementing this Committee's recommendations. I really just wondered whether you could tell me when you are likely to stop considering and examining it and move to the implementation phase?
  (Mr Halward) We are considering the adjudication issue, the Ombudsman issue and the prison inspection issue in the context of a fairly wide-ranging review of prison rules in relation to Northern Ireland which in turn is linked with the implementation of the Human Rights Act which has implications for all those areas. In each of them of course we are concerned to make things better. We are clear that there will not be a role for the Board of Visitors in adjudications but the Human Rights Act raises the issue of whether there should be an element more independent than the prison governor doing adjudications. It is in the context of that that we are tackling that issue. Our concern over the Ombudsman issue is very much about how we make things better. There are certain practices in Northern Ireland which are much quicker in tackling prisoner concerns than was my experience in England and Wales. The most obvious one is the speed of access to the courts where that process, that route, is much faster than the route through a Prisons Ombudsman would be for getting an issue tackled. I note from some recent stuff on the Ombudsman in England and Wales that they are concerned that the system in England and Wales gets a disproportionate amount of complaints from the most experienced and litigious long-term prisoners; in other words precisely those who are well provided for in Northern Ireland. We are going right back to first principles and looking at the whole complaints and requests system with a particular view to resolving issues where they arise which are usually between each individual prisoner and the officer on the landing. On the Chief Inspector of Prisons issue, the concern there is whether we stick with England and Wales where in practice the access at the moment is precisely the same although there has not been a formal statement to Parliament which set up that system, or whether, as I think the Chief Inspector may have suggested in evidence to this Committee, we should actually be more closely associated with Scotland which is geographically closer. While that is going on the Chief Inspector of Prisons continues to have completely unfettered access to prisons in Northern Ireland.

  64.  Am I right to conclude from that then that you do not know when you will be able to move to an implementation phase? When exactly was the review established, this review of the legislative base to which you referred? When was it set up?
  (Mr Halward) I cannot give you a precise date; it was in this year, earlier this year. I would not want in any way to mislead the Committee. We have not as yet got a target date for the changes in the three areas we have identified.

  65.  We do not know when there will be some action. The review was set up earlier this year. One of the things which has happened is that you have had a prison governor loaned to you from HM Prisons who has some expertise. When did that person become available to you and when did you ask for that person to be made available to you?
  (Mr Halward) The person became available a few weeks ago; I can give you a precise date.

  66.  Very recently.
  (Mr Halward) Yes, within the last couple of months certainly.

  67.  When did you ask for him or her?
  (Mr Halward) It is "her". Her immediate previous job was with the Prison Ombudsman's office and we were waiting for her to finish her period of attachment to that office, which I think was six months or something of that sort. We are back to the spring of the year I suppose.

  68.  Are you happy with the length of time it is taking to produce any action on this? Do you personally feel satisfied with this?
  (Mr Halward) I would certainly prefer that we can resolve these issues as quickly as possible. I would have been very happy if I could have appeared before the Committee today to say we had done that. However, I am also very keen that we get very good quality solutions to what are quite difficult issues. I suppose in thinking about that, I am to some extent guided by my own judgement about what the practical implications are of the present arrangements, in other words that the Board of Visitors does a very small number of adjudications, for example, that the Chief Inspector does have unfettered access to Northern Ireland and that I am reasonably satisfied that the complaints, certainly the ones which would be tackled by an Ombudsman's office precisely along the lines of those that exist in Scotland, England and Wales, are already being provided for. What I want to make sure we get at is perhaps the more vulnerable prisoner, not in the sense in which we were using the term earlier, the less experienced prisoner, and make sure that that person has access to an effective requests and complaints system.

  69.  I do not want to be unreasonably harsh but given the kind of criticisms that were mounted it would be tempting to say to you that it took nearly five months before a review was established in response to the Committee's recommendations and seven or eight months before you asked for help from another prison governor and we are still at the stage where you are not in a position to say when in fact you will move to some kind of implementation phase. I notice that back in March in particular Ministers said in response to the Committee's recommendations that ". . . the removal of the Board of Visitors' role in adjudications will be implemented . . . by amendment to the Prison Rules". That sounds like a relatively simple, concrete bit of activity that everyone understood and, as you say, the numbers are not that massive. Why has that taken so long? Is that not an administrative procedure almost?
  (Mr Halward) Yes, at that point there was no reason why that could not have been implemented quite quickly. It is as we have begun to consider, along with everybody else, the implications of the Human Rights Act that we are trying to make sure that we only make one set of changes. It is still unclear and all three Prison Services are working on the implications of the Human Rights Act for adjudications on prisoners.

  70.  Would you have any idea how many staff you actually have working on this review at the moment? I am just thinking that if you had 6 to 1 staffing ratios at the Maze and you told us earlier you are into delegating and devolving, why do we not delegate some of those staff and ask them to speed up the review and get it to a phase where there is some activity?
  (Mr Halward) I am afraid this is one of those areas where quite a lot of technical knowledge is needed. We do in fact have on the requests and complaints side of it a small team led by the deputy governor at the young offender centre working on this. We have particularly chosen him because if we can come up with a system which works with inexperienced youngsters then it will work across the rest of the system.


  71.  I know I speak on behalf of the whole Committee for all the hard pounding we have occasionally given you in terms of this session when I say that it has been of considerable satisfaction to us to take the evidence and for the evidence to be given in the way that it has been. I took incidental pleasure in your Borstal reference because one of the incidental pleasures of my youth was meeting the great C A Joyce, from who I owe the observation about the publication of the memoirs of a Liberal peer being held up for three weeks because the printers had run out of the capital "I". I have since studied the memoirs which include the remarkable citation of his batman for a VC on the grounds that "Throughout his military career he was never more than one yard behind me". We are genuinely grateful for the evidence. I think I speak on behalf of the whole Committee that we were encouraged by the progress report. You yourself made reference to the fact that you have been given some freedom by the fact that the security position had become less tense. The fact remains that that would not necessarily have been the case. It would have been perfectly possible for there to have been lapses in security. There have not been and that has obviously been to the credit of the Service. You have taken the maximum advantage of that fact to make the progress, particularly in the personnel area, that you have described both in the progress report and in answers to our questions. On behalf of the whole Committee, we are extremely appreciative. Thank you very much indeed.
  (Mr Halward) Thank you.

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