Justice Committee to be advised on the need for Prisoner Ombudsman Investigation Powers

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5 November 2015

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will today advise the Justice Committee that the Prisoner Ombudsman should have a power to carry out investigations on his or her own initiative. The Commission is providing evidence to the Assembly Justice Committee on the proposed Justice (No.2) Bill Bill.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said:

“We welcome that the Bill will put the Prisoner Ombudsman on a statutory footing – however we feel strongly that the office should be given an independent investigative power. As it currently stands the Ombudsman must be directed by the Department of Justice, we believe it needs to have the power to investigate on its own initiative. Today’s critical report on Maghaberry prison provides no clearer illustration of why having a robust system is necessary. We will be highlighting this with Committee Members today.”

In its written evidence to the Justice Committee on the Justice (No.2) Bill the Human Rights Commission:

• advises that the Bill be amended to provide the Prisoner Ombudsman with a power to carry out investigations on his or her own initiative

• recommends that the Committee consider the inclusion of an additional function to provide that the Ombudsman must promote understanding and awareness of its complaints procedures to ensure that they are accessible to all prisoners

• recommends, in light of the emphasis the Committee of Ministers have placed on investigators having the power to compel witnesses to ensure an effective investigation, that the Committee consider whether the Prisoner Ombudsman should be given a specific power to compel witnesses to assist in its investigations

• advises that provided adequate resourcing is allocated, the statutory framework for the office of the Prisoner Ombudsman should provide prompt and expeditious investigations into deaths in custody

• advises that clause 33(7) be amended to provide that: “Regulations must make provision as to the procedures to be followed in relation to reports under this section and must in particular include provisions…enabling the Ombudsman to publish the whole or any part of a report”

• welcomes the emphasis placed on the involvement of the family of a deceased person in an investigation into a death by the Prisoner Ombudsman.

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: Claire.Martin@nihrc.org (028) 9024 3987.

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

2. The Chief Commissioner Les Allamby and Commission staff will provide oral evidence on the Justice No.2 Bill to the Justice Committee on Thursday 5 November from 3pm. You can watch the evidence session live here.

3. Access the Human Rights Commission’s full submission to the Committee here.


05 Nov 2015