Terms of Reference published for the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland Inspection

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) proposes to undertake an inspection of the governance and operation of the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland (PCNI) including case management, risk management and operational support.  
The PCNI have a critical role in the delivery of criminal justice in Northern Ireland by protecting the public from serious criminal offending and supporting the rehabilitation of prisoners.  They make significant decisions about the safe release of prisoners back into the community. 
The PCNI is an independent body with a Chief Commissioner and Commissioners who make decisions about the continued detention, release or recall of prisoners referred to them by the Department of Justice (DoJ) and a Secretariat of Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals (NICTS) staff, an agency of the DoJ, that provides an administrative support service.
Commissioners are appointed by the DoJ under Schedule 4 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 (the Order) as independent Commissioners.  The Chief Commissioner is appointed from the body of Commissioners. 
The PCNI operate independently of criminal justice organisations but make decisions based on the information they receive from them, including the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI), the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the DoJ.  Critically, decisions made by the PCNI are made without interference from criminal justice agencies, other parties or Government.  
An inspection of the PCNI was included in CJI’s 2023-24 Inspection Programme and while the inspection will largely focus on the governance of the PCNI, the contribution criminal justice organisations make to supporting good governance and the operation of the PCNI will also be examined.
Respecting the independence of Parole Commissioners, their decision making is outside the scope of this inspection.  However, the administrative processes and services that support their decision-making falls within the scope of this inspection.
The PCNI was originally constituted as the Life Sentence Review Commissioners; their role changed in 2008 with the introduction of new sentences, including two public protection sentences, under the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008.  At that time the number of Commissioners increased from 24 to 40 in anticipation of an increased caseload.
CJI first inspected PCNI governance in 2011[1], two years after the introduction of the new sentencing framework.  Inspectors made two strategic and five other recommendations for improvement.  A Follow-Up Review (FUR) was conducted in 2014[2] to assess the progress made against the recommendations.  Inspectors found that five recommendations had been achieved and progress had been made in the remaining two areas.  Following a review of sponsor arrangements, the PCNI transferred to the NICTS who provided operational support and governance while the DoJ retained responsibility for overall policy direction including terms and conditions of the Commissioners.  This remains the position. 
The FUR found that the introduction of fixed fees had helped control costs and the average unit cost per case had fallen.  Although a performance management regime was not in place the Chief Commissioner dip sampled cases and provided guidance to all Commissioners and a policy to deal with non-performance issues and complaints was being finalised.  A need to accurately assess and forecast projected caseloads and the mix of cases referred to the PCNI remained.
The PCNI operate under three legislative frameworks:
  • The Life Sentences (Northern Ireland) Order 2001 (provided for the release and recall of persons serving a life sentence);
  • The Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 (established new sentencing and release arrangements for Northern Ireland and the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland); and 
  • The Parole Commissioners’ Rules 2009 (the Rules) (provided the arrangements under which prisoners serving indeterminate or extended custodial sentences would be reviewed and assessed for release by the PCNI).
While the Rules do not make provision for the referral and review of Determinate Custodial Sentenced prisoners who are subject to recall to custody, cases are processed as far as possible in keeping with the Rules.  There have been a number of recent changes to the legislative frameworks which provided for the review of terrorist related offenders and gave victims and others the right to request summaries of PCNI decisions.  No other significant changes to the legislation related to the work of the Parole Commissioners have been made since they were introduced.

The workload of the PCNI has increased very significantly since 2011, exceeding the projected caseloads anticipated when the new sentencing framework was first introduced.  In 2010-11, 177 cases were referred to the PCNI compared with 669 in 2022-23.  Fifty eight percent (391 of 669) of all referrals in 2022-23 related to recall cases, the majority of which related to Determinate Custodial Sentence cases.  The workload and key statistics for 2022-2023 indicated 636 cases were completed, which included 49 release decisions across all types of cases.   Overall, 958 provisional directions, directions, decisions or recommendations related to various aspects of case management were issued. 
There is a complement of 41 Parole Commissioners (including the Chief Commissioner) who are supported by a Secretariat of 15 NICTS staff across two sections: a corporate governance and finance team and a case management team.  A new case management information technology system went live in September 2023.
Aims of the Inspection
The broad aims of the Inspection are to assess that:
  • The statutory role and remit of the PCNI is clearly identified and the needs of the organisation are well understood;
  • Effective leadership and internal and external relationships support good governance;
  • Sponsorship arrangements are effective and proportionate and uphold the independence of the Parole Commissioners;
  • Governance and case management systems and processes effectively support effective administration, operational delivery and performance management;
  • Resources are well managed to deliver quality outcomes and a mechanism is in place to monitor and manage performance; and
  • Systems are in place to effectively manage risk.
Any other matters arising during the inspection, if considered appropriate, by CJI may be included.
The inspection will be based on the CJI Inspection Framework for each inspection that it conducts.  The three main elements of the inspection framework are:
  • Strategy and governance
  • Delivery, and
  • Outcomes.
Constants in each of the three framework elements and throughout each inspection are equality and fairness, together with standards and best practice.  The CJI inspection methodology can be found at www.cjini.org .
Design and Planning
Preliminary research
Data and initial information was reviewed to inform the scope of the inspection.  CJI also undertook early scoping discussions with the Chief Commissioner, PCNI staff and with representatives of the DoJ, the NICTS, the NIPS and the PBNI.
Benchmarking, research and data collection
Benchmarking information and data will be collected and a review conducted of other inspection and relevant reports.  This will include information related to the governance and operation of Parole Boards in other jurisdictions.
Contact with agency (ies)
Terms of reference will be shared with the PCNI and with the DoJ, the NICTS, the NIPS and the PBNI.  The PCNI and other organisations identified in this terms of reference will be asked to nominate a liaison officer for the inspection.
Policies and procedures, management information, minutes of meetings and related documentation from the PCNI and other organisations as appropriate, will be requested and examined.    
Stakeholder consultation
The following stakeholder organisations will be consulted:
  • the DoJ;
  • the Lady Chief Justice’s Office;
  • the NICTS;
  • the NIPS;
  • the Law Society of Northern Ireland;
  • the Bar Council of Northern Ireland; and
  • the PBNI.
Other stakeholders may be consulted as appropriate.  In this inspection the DoJ and NICTS will be involved both as stakeholders and fieldwork will be conducted with both organisations reflecting the different roles that different parts of these organisations have in relation to the governance and operation of the PCNI.
The PCNI, the NICTS and the DoJ sponsoring division will be invited to complete a self-assessment.  These will be reviewed by CJI prior to the commencement of fieldwork.
Development of fieldwork plan
Interviews and focus groups will be conducted with Parole Commissioners, Secretariat staff and managers, those involved in sponsorship roles, as well as managers/staff in key stakeholder organisations.
Fieldwork will also be conducted with service users.
CJI will liaise with inspection liaison officers to plan and organise fieldwork within their respective organisations.
Initial feedback
On conclusion of the fieldwork the evidence will be collated, triangulated and analysed and emerging findings will be developed. CJI will then present the findings to the Chief Commissioner, the PCNI Secretariat, the NICTS and other criminal justice organisations involved in the inspection.
Drafting of report
Following completion of the fieldwork and analysis of data, a draft report will be shared with the PCNI and other criminal justice organisations for factual accuracy check.  The Chief Inspector will invite the PCNI and other organisations that recommendations refer to to complete an action plan within six weeks to address the recommendations and if the plan has been agreed and is available it will be published as part of the final inspection report.  The inspection report will be shared, under embargo, in advance of the publication date with the inspected bodies.
Publication and Closure
A report will be sent to the Minister of Justice for permission to publish.  When permission is received the report will be finalised for publication.  A press release will be drafted and shared with the PCNI and other organisations involved in the inspection prior to publication and release.  A publication date will be agreed and the report will be issued.
Indicative Timetable
Scoping/Research: January-February 2024
Stakeholder consultation: February 2024
Agency fieldwork: March-April 2024
Draft Report to agencies: June-July 2024
Factual accuracy feedback received: July-August 2024
The above timetable may be impacted by factors outside CJI’s control.  The inspected organisations will be kept advised of any significant changes to the indicative timetable.
[1] CJI, Governance Inspection of the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland, September 2011 available at  https://cjini.org/getattachment/03b77ef8-d196-447c-8d8d-52875dda6dcc/Parole-Commissioners.aspx.
[2] CJI, Corporate Governance of the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland A Follow Up Review of Inspection Recommendations, March 2014 available at https://cjini.org/TheInspections/Action-Plan-Reviews-Inspection-Follow-Up-Revie/2014/Corporate-governance-of-the-Parole-Commissioners-f