Criminal justice chief calls for devolution to be restored

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

The chief inspector of criminal justice has urged Northern Ireland's politicians to restore devolution as soon as possible.

Brendan McGuigan said the presence of a local minister supported by a justice committee had produced better scrutiny and accountability from the agencies he reviews.

He wrote: "The political crisis/instability which occurred in the last quarter of the financial year and subsequent election have created a new and unexpected challenge for the Inspectorate."

On Friday, Mr McGuigan published his annual report for last year.

Powersharing collapsed after the late Martin McGuinness resigned in January as deputy first minister in protest at the DUP's handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Mr McGuigan added: "In the interim where reports have been completed, I have written to the relevant organisations and requested action plans be produced to address accepted recommendations with publication of the inspection findings to follow."

Publication recommenced last month after the intervention of a senior civil servant.

The chief inspector added: "The devolution of justice and policing in 2010 was a pivotal event for Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI).

"A local minister supported by an intrusive, well-informed Justice Committee opened up the way for more effective scrutiny and enhanced accountability of the criminal justice agencies.

"I sincerely hope that these arrangements are restored as soon as possible."

Over the past year, the CJI has continued to devote a significant amount of time and resources to inspecting the Northern Ireland Prison Service through the unannounced inspection of Hydebank Wood Secure College and Ash House Women's Prison.

The chief inspector added: "The significant improvements that were reported reflected the time and effort of the leadership team, their staff and other organisations, to transform the experience of the women and young men held at the prison.

"We also conducted a low impact announced inspection at Maghaberry Prison which noted the continued progress that was being made, but also highlighted ongoing concerns about the misuse of drugs and how vulnerable prisoners were being managed."