Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Thirty-First Report




Examination of witnesses
(Questions 1 - 19)



  1.  Good afternoon, welcome to the Committee. We do not always ask for oral evidence but we thought we should in this instance. I understand that you would like to make some form of opening statement?

  (Ms Jackson)  Yes, indeed.

  2.  Thank you. Before you do so would you just introduce yourselves, please?

  (Ms Jackson)  Yes, of course. Good afternoon. I am Hilary Jackson, Head of the Juvenile Offenders Unit in the Home Office which is responsible for the policy on secure training centres and the Secure Training Order. This is Teresa Burnhams who works with me and heads the secure training centre section in that unit. Tim Middleton is from our legal adviser's branch. Caroline Price is also from our legal adviser's branch. Thank you for inviting a statement. This is really just to add to the formal memorandum that we sent in response to some of the questions that you raised in writing. The Home Secretary has asked us to thank you on his behalf for the comments that were made. The point that we really want to address in the opening statement relates to the Secure Training Centre (Escorts) Rules about which I know you have particular concerns about rule 2(4) which dealt with the arrangements for allowing for young offenders or trainees when they were being taken to the secure training centres from the court to be searched and strip searched in some situations. We do not envisage that is likely to happen except in exceptional circumstances. The laws allow for it as much for the protection of the young person in case there is any reason to suppose they have with them something with which they can self-harm or indeed harm any of the custody officers with them. The rules as drafted provide that there must be two officers present and the contract that one of them must be of the same sex as the female offender. We have now looked at this again in the light of the concern and the Home Secretary has looked again at the rules and he has agreed and decided that we ought to change the rules to make certain that there will always be two custody officers who are with the young person who will both always be of the same sex, which in practice is what we would have expected to happen anyway through the arrangements with the contractor for the escort. The Home Secretary has agreed and does think that it is important that is made clear in the rules. We will be undertaking to amend the rules to make that clear.

  3.  When? That is the first question I suppose one should ask.

  (Mrs Price)  The rules could be made very quickly. There would be the normal requirement for them to be laid before Parliament 21 days after being laid before they come into force. If this Committee were to suggest that in the circumstances that 21 day rule need not be applied because you would be anxious for it to come into force as quickly as possible then we could submit a memorandum saying in the circumstances we will not lay it for 21 days. As to the making of the rules, I would imagine that could be done within the next month.

  (Mr Middleton)  It would be subject to a review of the policy. This is a decision that the Home Secretary has reached recently. I am just anxious not to make a commitment that we cannot keep to because the Home Secretary will have reached this view very recently and we will need to look at the policy to see how we can make the amendment. It may not be a straightforward drafting change because it is a change of policy. It is certainly something that we will progress as quickly as we can.

  Lord Skelmersdale

  4.  But surely, Chairman, the change of policy that you have just explained has already been made and since it has already been made what is to inhibit you from getting on with it quite quickly?

  (Ms Jackson)  We will. For our part in the Home Office we will get on with that and we will undertake to do it as quickly as we can. There is no wish to delay on this.

  5.  If the policy was still under discussion I could well understand.

  (Ms Jackson)  It is not under discussion in the sense of that decision being taken, we simply need to agree with ministers the drafting as to exactly how we change the rules to deliver the policy that we want to deliver, which is that two people of the same sex should be there. Then it is simply a case of going through the necessary procedures.

  Mr Bennett

  6.  The initial orders came into force on 16 April, did they not?

  (Ms Jackson)  They did.

  7.  Can you give us a guarantee that so far this situation has not arisen?

  (Ms Jackson)  It has not.

  8.  And that it will not arise before you replace them with the new regulations which will stop it?

  (Ms Jackson)  It has not arisen yet. We have talked to the contractors about the position now. I do not know if there is anything you want to add on that, Teresa?

  (Mrs Burnhams)  They have no intention of using other than the same sex to do the searching. They have given us an absolute guarantee that that will be the case until the rules are changed.

  Lord Walker

  9.  Ms Jackson, may I ask if it would be thought consistent to have similar rules applied to strip searching for people bathing? I have been in Doncaster Prison and have watched young men at the showers totally stripped with a whole host of people being able to watch through a one-way mirror. Am I right?

  (Ms Jackson)  I do not know. We cannot really speak on the Prison Service, I am sorry. There is nobody here from the Prison Service. Within the STCs the facilities all have en-suite showers.

  10. This is where young people are held on remand. I visited the prison and saw young men taking a shower and I assumed they could not see me because they gave no indication of being aware of my presence. It seems to me that would be an analogous situation where a young offender is being strip searched, in other words the need for the privacy of the individual is being respected.

  (Mr Middleton)  That does not arise in the secure training centres because each room has an individual shower as I understand it. There are no communal showering arrangements in the secure training centres.

  Chairman:  Thank you for explaining that point.

  Mr Bennett

  11. Can I take you back to the first set of regulations then and ask you how it is supposed to work. Supposing an officer meets someone who has been a former trainee or a relative or friend of a former trainee, how are they supposed to communicate with the governor before they actually respond to a question or a comment from that individual?

  (Mrs Price)  This is rule 39(7).

  (Mr Middleton)  The purpose of this rule is to prevent officers from initiating communications and it is thought that it would work in that way, that the officer himself should not communicate with a person who he knows to be a former trainee. Of course, a casual encounter is always possible. He obviously would not be expected to seek the governor's authority in those circumstances then. It is in the guidance for officers that they would be expected to report back to the governor if any such encounter occurred.

  12. They are allowed actually to complete the conversation?

  (Mr Middleton)  Of course.

  13. How does that work with the regulations?

  (Mrs Price)  The governor subsequently would be informed that the communication had taken place.


  14. Can you speak up, please?

  (Mrs Price)  The governor would be subsequently informed that that conversation had taken place.

  Lord Walker

  15. May I just follow on from this. You may recall when we first discussed this Statutory Instrument a matter that I raised, because my weekend social activities take me to public houses which are in the proximity of penal institutions in Doncaster and Lindholme and Hatfield where there is a juvenile institution, former borstal, and of course the prison staff go for a drink in the same pub and we get into social conversation which occasionally takes us into the professional interests of the prison staff. Now, if such an occasion arises, as it may well do, and has done, is that prison officer under an obligation to then say: "Sir, I had a pint last night in the Robin Hood and Little John, and I got into a conversation with Harold Walker and I think I ought to tell you, boss"? Really that seems to be an unreasonable burden that they should say: "I cannot talk to you, Harold, because the rules say I cannot. The rules say I have to go to the governor and tell him I had a chat with you". That seems to be the implication of 39(7). Am I wrong?

  (Mr Middleton)  This is on the assumption that you are a former inmate?

  16. 39(7) does not say that.

  (Mr Middleton)  Or a relative or friend.

  Lord Walker:  "...a relative or friend of a trainee or former trainee". My constituents when I was the Member of Parliament for Doncaster regularly kept in touch. Their friends and relatives went on prison visits and they went in the pub for a pint: "Oh, are you the local MP? Can I have a word with you, sir?" It is very difficult, is it not?


  17. I think what we are driving at is we want to know what is the mischief that rule 39(7) is intended to combat?

  (Mr Middleton)  It is to protect former offenders and officers from maintaining relationships that could create difficulties once the inmates are no longer — Sorry, the trainees. I am using the word "inmates" because this is directly taken from the equivalent rules that the Prison Service has for prisons and young offender institutions. It is to put in a controlled framework any associations that occur when the trainee has left the establishment.

  18. And you are saying that this controlled framework is already being used within the Prison Service?

  (Mr Middleton)  Yes.

  19. So what sort of difficulty are you referring to?

  (Ms Jackson)  It is really there as a sort of check and balance to make sure that communications do not take place but if they do take place once the trainee has left the secure training centre it is a proper relationship and a proper form of communication. It is about protecting young people from any possible inappropriate relations once they have left or indeed the same in the Prison Service in relation to prison staff and indeed to protect the officers.

  (Mr Middleton)  It is for the protection of the officers as well.

  Lord Walker

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