9th November 2017 – updated 23rd March 2018

By Mark Leech. Editor The Prisons Handook

Just over a month ago the the Secretary of State for Justice announced the appointment of Dame Anne Owers as the new (and 1st) National Chairman of Independent Monitoring Boards.

It was an appointment that I found deeply troubling, for reasons explained in my letters. I published my letter of concern to Anne Owers and she replied.

You can view the correspondence below.

  1. Letter: Mark Leech to Anne Owers. 9th November 2017
  2. Letter Anne Owers to Mark Leech. 20th November 2017
  3. Letter Mark Leech to Anne Owers. 23rd November 2017
  4. (Latest) Letter Mark Leech to Anne Owers. 23rd March 2018 – below

Being seen to be done is important

23rd March 2018

Dear Anne,

Lord knows we’ve had our differences over the years, from my suggestion (you never took forward) of ex-offenders and former prison officers being guest Inspectors with HMI being one, to currently, where the IMB are at a crucial cross-road, and it now falls to you to chart a course that, five months after your appointment, is still as bleak and unclear as its always been.

There have been good times too; I am not saying you are the handmaid of Satan.

Just that your style in the past has not rested easy with me (perhaps I expect too much sometimes), and it is that which causes me to have concerns now about whether you will truly defend IMB Members and allow all members to exploit the Independence of their Office – without any prejudicial consequences?

I am aware that you yesterday held a Chairs’ Conference in Bristol, at which you put out your ideas, but there is still not a single mention of it officially today on the IMB web site – a web site that, incidentally, has not kept pace with technology and whose stagnant nature is indicative of the organisation that it represents. So, can you enlighten me as to what your ‘ideas for IMB progress’ are?

By this I mean your ideas for ‘progress’ in terms of the KPA Review in 2014 and the ‘root and branch’ reform that this MOJ commissioned Review called for; in terms of the sacking of Faith Spear from HMYOI Hollesley Bay Board for speaking out and the shocking damage to IMB independence that it represents; and in terms of Recruitment and Training of IMB Members so that they actually better represent the cross-section of the prison population they are in place to monitor and, specifically, are required by law to interact with.

First and foremost, however, whether you accept that sometimes perception is often more important than reality, because the perception (and in this case the experience too) of the IMB is that as long as they remain as a part of the MOJ (and not the Prisons Inspectorate where they belong) their statutory independence will never be either seen, nor believed to have been done.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards


— Mark Leech FRSA Editor: The Prisons Handbook