Inspectorate finds governance arrangements for Parole Commissioners strengthened
A review of progress made by the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland to implement a series of independent inspection recommendations has identified significant improvements which have increased performance, efficiency and service delivery.
"When Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) first inspected the Parole Commissioners in 2011, Inspectors made seven recommendations aimed at strengthening the governance and working of the organisation," explained Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"The Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland play a critical role in delivering local public protection arrangements and their importance has been referred to in previous CJI reports.
"This review found five recommendations have been fully implemented with substantial progress on completing the remaining two," he said.
Mr McGuigan said Inspectors viewed the decision to place the Parole Commissioners under the sponsorship of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) - in order to provide administrative, financial and business services in support of the work of the Commissioners' - to have been by and large, successful.
"Performance within the organisation has improved within the last two years and it now compares favourably with other jurisdictions. An increase in casework has led to a reduction in the individual cost per case of referrals. Money spent on non-case work has been reduced and the management of expenditure has also improved.
Mr McGuigan indicated that the new arrangements had created some tensions between the Parole Commissioners desire to maintain as high a degree of independence as possible and the issue of the accountability of the Commissioners via the NICTS to the Department of Justice for financial and governance matters.
"Inspectors believe the introduction of an agreed memorandum of understanding at the start of the new financial year between the NICTS and Parole Commissioners will clarify the boundaries of these respective roles.
"This work should also address underlying concerns which may exist in respect of the independence and underpin the primacy of Chief Commissioner in respect of decisions, the allocation of cases, reviews of decisions and other work of the Commissioners," said the Chief Inspector.
"We suggest that the Department of Justice should consider scheduling of the Parole Commissioners as non-Crown judicial appointments as this would provide the guarantee of independence they desire and oversight by the Lord Chief Justice's Office that would satisfy public accountability requirements," Mr McGuigan concluded.