Ombudsman should investigate prisons on own initiative, says NIHRC



Les Allamby, NIHRC Chief Commissioner

The Prisoner Ombudsman should have a statutory power to carry out investigations on his or her own initiative, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has told a Northern Ireland Assembly committee.

The Commission is providing evidence to the Assembly justice committee on the proposed Justice (No.2) Bill, described as a “flagship piece of Departmental legislation” by the Department of Justice.

Les Allamby, NIHRC Chief Commissioner, 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.”

Mr Allamby said yesterday’s damning report on Maghaberry Prison “provides no clearer illustration of why having a robust system is necessary”.

In its written evidence to the justice committee, the NIHRC suggested the bill should give the Ombudsman the power to compel witnesses to assist in its investigations and a responsibility to promote understanding of its complaints procedures.

The Commission also advised 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.

It also welcomed the emphasis placed on the involvement of the family of a deceased person in an investigation.

The NIHRC’s full written submission can be accessed on the Assembly website here.