Friday, 20 November 2015

Gove Calls for the Police

To many people’s surprise, expectations of prison reform over the next five years are currently sky high. It’s not just Justice Secretary Michael Gove who has promised fundamental change.  The Prime Minister told the Tory conference that “when prisoners are in jail, we have their full attention for months at a time – so let’s treat their problems, educate them, put them to work”. How will we know whether these noble aspirations are translated into reality for the 85,000 prisoners locked up across the country?

We will know next week whether the Justice ministry has secured sufficient funds from the Treasury to make Gove’s promises look plausible but will probably have to wait a few more weeks for the comprehensive prison reform plan that officials are putting together. In the longer term we will need to rely on the reports of the independent Chief Inspector of Prisons to know whether conditions of detention improve and opportunities for rehabilitation increase in the way the government hope.

Today we learned who is likely to be making those judgements - former Met Police Counter Terrorism Commander Peter Clarke. Clarke has been nominated as a preferred candidate as Chief Inspector by Gove and although he will appear for a scrutiny hearing before the Justice Select committee – as will Glenys Stacey who has been put forward as Chief Inspector of Probation- chances are that the former Scotland Yard boss will be appointed in due course to replace Nick Hardwick.  Last year Gove appointed Clarke to lead an investigation of Islamist infiltration of the governance of schools in Birmingham. Although the report arguably helped end Gove’s term at education, he and Clarke seem to share views about the widespread nature of extremism in Muslim communities.

Whatever one thinks of Clarke, it is disappointing that the opportunity has not been taken to make the post of Chief Inspector of Prisons more independent of government. Last year Hardwick told the House of Commons Public Administration Committee that being appointed by and reporting to the Ministry of Justice is “by its nature incompatible with full independence” and proposed direct accountability to Parliament. The Committee recommended as much in their report but just before the election, change was rejected, with the MoJ arguing that allowing the inspectorate separate offices and a website plus more freedom to recruit its staff were sufficient to “reflect the unique watchdog status of HMI Prisons”.

At the same time, as if to amplify  concerns about independence, the Justice Committee were involved in a spat with Chris Grayling over the selection of Hardwick’s successor. The fact that the two "independent" members of the selection panel were revealed to be tory activists, led the Commissioner of Public Appointments to promise to amend the rules about panel membership. In the event no appointment was made but now that it has been, the Justice Committee will no doubt want to know who made it.

What else might they ask when Clarke comes before them for a pre appointment hearing? Most of their questions will no doubt focus on the skills, experience and values he will bring to a post which many consider as one of the foremost human rights monitors in the country. But there are three specific matters they would do well to raise.

First they will need to establish whether Mr Clarke has any family relationships that might cause a conflict of interest, such as that which ended Paul McDowell’s time as Probation inspector (and about which the Committee regrettably failed to inquire at the material time).

Second they might want to ask how being an ex-police officer could affect his judgement. After all inspection of police custody suites is an important role of the prison inspectorate these days. Former prison service staff are ineligible to be Chief Inspector of Prisons, but ex police officers seemingly not. His investigation skills will not be in question but will his impartiality?

Finally, they may want to ask a bit not only about how his experience in counter terrorism might affect his attitudes to the treatment of Muslim prisoners but about his other police roles too. For example he was deputy then acting head of personnel at the Met in the early 2000’s.  Today the Met admitted that that there had been no proper management of the deployments of undercover officers , even after the introduction of supposedly stringent legal controls. Was that debacle any part of Clarke’s responsibilities? Lets hope not otherwise he will be busy contributing to Lord Justice Pitchford's inquiry.

1 comment:

  1. The Chief Inspector of Prisons is accountable to Parliament for inspecting prisons and other places of custody to ensure that they are run properly. The Ministry of Justice, led by the Minister of Justice, is responsible for running them properly.

    Under our system this Minister selects the new Inspector when the time comes and a Justice Committee approves his selection. The Minister can ignore this committee if he wishes.

    We have a system where by the Inspector who inspects the Minister is selected by that Minister he inspects. This is not independent nor is right nor is acceptable.

    What next; will pupils mark their own exams or will Judges be appointed by the criminals they sentence.

    What arrant nonsense. How do the British get away with this unfair and ridiculous charade and the show great pride in our Criminal Justice system whose record and current performance is so shameful and abysmal? Why are we so smug?