‘Politicians need to lay off, stop interfering - and let the justice system do its job’ says former prisons chief

Nick Hardwick, former parole board chief and chief prisons inspector
Nick Hardwick, former parole board chief and chief prisons inspector
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Nick Hardwick might not be employed in the justice system any more, but he’s still got plenty to say about it.

And after a high profile fallout with the Government, he’s determined to remain a thorn in its side.

As former chief prisons inspector and chair of the parole board, he has held two of the most high profile jobs in the UK justice system.

He hit the headlines earlier in the year when he was forced to resign over the release of serial taxi-cab rapist John Worboys from prison - even though he had no direct involvement in the release.

A high court subsequently quashed the decision to release Worboys in the light of other victims coming forward.

Hardwick, who is now working in academia as a professor of criminology, still believes he was the fall guy for the debacle - a view since backed up by a judge’s ruling in August that the Justice Minister David Gauke was wrong to push him out.

The judge also said that the parole board - an ostensibly independent panel - lacks the necessary autonomy from Ministerial influence and diktat, an issue that Hardwick himself has repeatedly pressed on.

He remains circumspect in the aftermath of his unceremonious departure.

“You have to take the rough with the smooth, “ he tells The Yorkshire Post.

“The high court ruled on quite a narrow point of law that the panel had been in error in the way it made its decision and it needed to be made again.

“And there was - as everybody knows - a lot of public concern about Worboys, who had committed some very serious offences. And so the Justice Secretary told me I had to resign. He has subsequently been criticised in the courts for doing that.

“My own personal view is that the victims in the case were very brave and courageous in the way they dealt with it, and I’m very grateful that they have been pretty supportive of me personally.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the Worboys decision has to be made again. I think it’s a good thing - and its something I have been pressing for.”

Asked if he is still angry at the Justice Minister, he says: “I’ve never been angry. My view is don’t go into the kitchen if you don’t like the heat.

“But I think he (David Gauke) was wrong to do that.

“And in the Paul Wakenshaw case (a prisoner who sought a judicial review in the aftermath of the Worboys controversy) I think the judge there said that the decision to force me out breached the act of independence of 1701, which is as emphatic as you can get.”

His run-in with Mr Gauke is not the first time Hardwick has clashed with a Minister.

When leaving his chief inspector of prisons job two years ago, he accused Gauke’s predecessor Chris Grayling - now the beleaguered Transport Secretary - of attempting to remove criticisms of government policies from an independent report before its publication.

“I do think that the courts should make their decisions based on applying the law to the evidence that is before them. They shouldn’t make their decisions on the basis of newspaper headlines of what the politicians are saying,” he says.

“I think it’s a very unhealthy thing if politicians interfere or try to undermine the independence of the court.

“And I do think there are some concerns now about the independence of the parole board.

“It’s important that politicians kind of lay off, basically.”

He continues especially to call on Ministers to allow the parole board - or “junior court” as he calls it - to have more independence from Whitehall.

“The critical principle here is of judicial independence,” he says.

“Decisions about whether your liberty can be taken away - however awful a crime you are accused of - are ultimately decided by the court and not the politicians.”

Hardwick’s lifelong career in the justice system actually began indirectly via Yorkshire.

He studied English at Hull University - where he still has links - and had been contemplating a career in journalism.

But he got a summer holiday job working with young people who had just been released from Borstal, as young offenders institutes were then called.

“I was planning to do it for a few weeks but ended up doing it for six years,” he says.

It seems that when it comes to his championing of efforts to rehabilitate ex offenders, things have come full circle.

Last week, Hardwick was in Leeds to visit Tempus Novo, a charity - set up by two former prison officers - which teams up with local businesses to get ex-offenders into work.

Its employee retention rates are high, and re-offending rates of people who have gone through its programme are a fraction of the national average.

Hardwick believes the Tempus Novo model, rooted very much in local knowledge and partnership working, could and should be a national exemplar.

“I think there is a lot of really important work that happens that isn’t really dependent on Government decisions,” he says.

“For instance, the work of Tempus Novo. It’s not so much about Government decisions, it’s about individual parts of the criminal justice system engaging with it, and employers recognising that actually, they can get some very good and reliable employees and do some social good by working with organisations like Tempus Novo.

“We have to rely less on these kind of top-down solutions and more on bottom-up community based responses.”

“Whatever you think about criminal justice, we all want people to leave prison less likely to commit offences than when they went in,” he adds.

“It’s not just good for the prisoner and their families, it’s good for potential victims too.”

Asked if building more prisons is the answer to chronic overcrowding issues, he adds: “What we want to do is reduce the number who come back.

“Compared with other countries in Europe, we have a much higher prison population, certainly more than countries in Western Europe.

“And like every other public service, there is a choice to be made.

“Do we want to spend our money on prison officers and prison places, or on police officers on the streets, or nurses and teachers? There’s always a choice to be made.

“For some people, when they commit offences, prison is the appropriate punishment. That’s the only way you can protect society from them.

“But we have incredible community based punishments and if we can give people the help they need to change in their community, then often that’s the better and more cost effective option than just prison.”

‘USE EX CONS TO FILL THE POST BREXIT LOW SKILLED WORKERS GAP’

More investment in community based rehabilitation projects like Tempus Novo in Leeds, which gets ex offenders into work, could play a key role in filling a post-Brexit workforce shortage, Mr Hardwick believes.

“We know that some businesses are struggling to recruit the people they need,” he said.

“And if they are not able in the future to recruit low skilled workers, they are going to have to find those workers from elsewhere.

“One of the things that they can do, where it’s appropriate, is to recruit low risk offenders, people who have served their time and they now want to change.

“And what the employers who work with Tempus Novo would tell you is that the staff they do recruit in that way, actually from a business point of view, do very well.”

“From a business point of view, it’s simple.

“I think employers do need to look at whether - where there are people who come out of prison, show they are willing to change and go straight - they can take a chance and fill a gap in their workforce.”