Justice Secretary Chris Grayling should be stripped of the power to oversee the workings of the Prisons watchdog to avoid potential conflicts of interests, according to outgoing Prisons Inspector Nick Hardwick.
Hardwick told a Commons committee there was a major flaw in the fact his post was funded by the Ministry of Justice and appointed by the Secretary of State – the very same department and minister he may have to criticise in his role.
Instead, the Inspector should report directly to parliament, he suggested.
He went on to suggest the current arrangement with the Ministry of Justice threatens his independence.
His successor would be “looking over their shoulder, saying: ‘Are the people that I am criticising… the same people I am going to have to ask for a job or renewal of my contract?’ I do not think that is right.”
Hardwick explained that when he was appointed, he resisted attempts to appraise his position by the Ministry of Justice.
They kept trying to appraise me and I kept saying no. At one point there was a threat. They said to me, ‘If you want to be reappointed, you have to agree to be reappraised by us.’ I said I was not going to do it. I think appraisal is a good thing… I just do not think I should be appraised by people who it is part of my job to say things that sometimes they will not like.
Hardwick previously announced he will stand down from his role after turning down an invitation from the justice secretary to re-apply for his own job. He told ministers a 69% rise in self-inflicted deaths in jails was unacceptable in a civilised society.
Since taking over the role in 2010, he has published increasingly critical reports highlighting rising rates of suicide and violence in prisons.
When asked by the Justice committee for his recommendations on how he would reform the role for the future, he recommended changing the tenure of the job to a seven year, non-renewable appointment.
“It is a real mistake to appoint my successor for a three-year term,” he said. “It takes you 18 months to get up to speed.”
He said: “The independence of the role is crucial. In the end, I do not have regulatory powers – I just have the power of my voice.”
When asked what advice he would give his successor, Hardwick said they should focus on several issues, such as the “concentrated group of very troubled and challenging children in custody,” and recommended they “keep a very close eye on what is happening on the women’s estate.”
“I would say to my successor that you need not to forget the basics. Do not take your eye off the ball.”
Hardwick’s appointment has since been extended to allow for a re-run of the recruitment process to find his successor.