A legal challenge by Brendan Conway, a serving prisoner in Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland will lead to a judicial review of prison strip search practices. The full hearing will be heard next month and the ruling may have implications for prisons in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK.
Any implications of this legal ruling will be just one of the myriad challenges that newly appointed Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), Colin McConnell will face. The much anticipated review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, which is being led by Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, is due for completion in early Spring and will follow a highly critical report of NIPS published by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) in December 2010. The CJINI Report which focusses on the corporate governance arrangements within NIPS highlighted what the Justice Minister, David Ford, described as ‘fundamental problems’ in the prison service in Northern Ireland.
In a statement issued in December 2010, Ford, said:
The Service cannot remain in its current form. Fundamental change is essential, otherwise the failures of recent months will be repeated.
If in the future we are to have a Prison Service in which I as Minister, and the wider community, can all have confidence, we must commit ourselves to fundamentally reforming the Service and we must see it through to completion.
Whether the promised reforms will materialise in 2011 is still to be seen, but certainly attention will remain focussed on this area.