Lords reject government plans to merge police, probation and courts inspectors

Lords reject merged justice watchdog

Lords reject merged justice watchdog

Peers last night overwhelmingly rejected government plans to merge the prison, police, prosecution, probation and courts watchdogs into a single chief inspector.

The House of Lords voted 211 to 98 to support Lord Ramsbottom’s amendment to the police and justice bill that would retain the five independent inspectorates, rather than merge them into one Chief Inspector for Justice, Community Safety and Custody.

Home Office minister Baroness Scotland had argued that with a more integrated approach to the criminal justice system – with offenders serving time in prison, in the community and then on probation – it made sense to have one inspectorate.

“There are huge gaps in what we do and what we know, which must be filled.we now want multi-disciplinary inspections which do not just look at the health and safety issues but at the relationship with inmates, the transfers and the planning of care plans,” she said.

But Lord Ramsbottom, a former chief inspector of prisons, argued the new watchdog would not have the same power to hold ministers accountable as the current separate inspectorates, nor would it provide the same “independent objective information”.

He noted the importance of this in the current prisons crisis – which will tomorrow see police cells used to detain criminals when English and Welsh jails become full.

“The current crisis has come about in part because the government have failed to listen to timely, accurate information provided by their one independent and objective source – the independent prisons inspectorate,” the peer argued.

“But you don’t shoot the messenger just because you don’t like the message.”

One peer said the new post of chief inspector of all criminal justice services would require someone who was “superhuman”, and Lord Ramsbottom noted the qualifications that any applicants would require.

“The head-hunters are looking for someone who can speak with first-hand experience of inspecting 140 prisons, can advise 50 chief constables on personnel as well as operational matters, knows the intricacies of the crown prosecution, courts and probation services, is able to deal with three secretaries of state and ten other ministers, can balance limited budget resources between five separate operations each of which has a full programme, has time to read and edit more than 300 reports each year and can carry out the media, official and representational tasks currently undertaken by five people in three ministries,” he said.

“The net effect will be that because no one person could possibly do this, the chief inspector will either have to delegate tasks to the deputy currently doing them or take him or her with him to provide first as opposed to second-hand evidence.”

However, the Home Office vowed to retain the merged inspectorate proposal when the bill returns to the House of Commons.