Terms of reference

These Terms of Reference spell out the responsibilities of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Statutory Responsibilities

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons’ responsibilities are set out in section 5A of the Prison Act 1952 as amended by section 57 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982. They are to:

  • inspect or arrange for the inspection of prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales and report to the Secretary of State on the results
  • in particular, report to the Secretary of State on the treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons
  • report on matters connected with prisons in England and Wales and prisoners in them referred to him by the Secretary of State
  • submit an annual report to be laid before Parliament.

HM Chief Inspector’s statutory remit covers only England and Wales, but the Chief Inspector may conduct inspections by invitation outside the United Kingdom.

The Chief Inspector’s responsibilities have also been extended to include the inspection of immigration service detention centres, secure juvenile accommodation inside and outside the prison estate on behalf of the Youth Justice Board, police custody suites with HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), court custody facilities, Border Force customs custody suites and Secure Training Centres undertaken jointly with Ofsted. The statutory responsibility for these inspections is established in the following legislation:

– Section 46 (1) of The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 extended the Chief Inspector’s remit to immigration detention centres, short-term immigration holding facilities and escort arrangements throughout the UK.

– The Police and Justice Act 2006 section 28 added to the 1952 Act by setting out the Chief Inspector’s further powers and duties to cooperate and consult with other criminal justice Inspectorates and other bodies. They are to:

    • delegate any of his functions to another public authority
    • prepare an inspection programme and inspection framework on which the Secretary of State and other specified bodies must be consulted (this does not prevent the Chief Inspector from making visits without notice)
    • ensure inspections by other bodies do not place an unreasonable burden on organisations within his remit
    • cooperate with other Inspectorates and other public authorities where it is appropriate to do so for the efficient and effective discharge of his functions
    • act jointly with other public authorities where it is appropriate to do so for the efficient and effective discharge of his functions
    • acting jointly with other criminal justice inspectors, prepare a joint inspection programme on which the Secretary of State and other specified bodies must be consulted
    • provide assistance to any other public authority for the purpose of the exercise by that authority of its functions.

The relevant Secretaries of State and the Attorney General may specify the form the inspection programme  or inspection frameworks are to take.

–  The Public Bodies Act 2011 enabled Ministers to abolish HM Inspectorate of Court Administration (HMICA) and transfer its powers to another body. By order of The Public Bodies (Abolition of Courts Boards, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Court Administration and Public Guardian Board) Order 2012, HMI Prisons was given powers to inspect court custody.

By invitation, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons also carries out inspection of military detention facilities, prisons in Northern Ireland (on behalf of Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI)), prisons on the Isle of Man and Channel Islands and some other overseas prisons in jurisdictions with links to the UK.

The government attaches great importance to having a Chief Inspector of Prisons and an Inspectorate of high quality, independent of the Prison Service, in order to provide the public, parliament and government with an objective and authoritative assessment of the conditions in prisons and other establishments that detain people.


In determining the inspection programme, HM Chief Inspector will use their judgement and expertise in deciding what to inspect, how inspections should be carried out, what the findings should be and whether an inspection is to be announced or unannounced. HM Chief Inspector’s remit includes thematic inspection of issues cutting across individual establishments.

The Chief Inspector will need to ensure that he/she:

  • inspects all the prisons and establishments that detain people in England and Wales
  • maintains information systems to ensure that inspection resources are targeted at areas of most need and problems identified can be tackled promptly
  • keeps the inspection process, and the composition of inspection teams, under review to ensure that inspection standards are maintained and that these objectives are met within available resources.

The Chief Inspector will be expected to publish the methodology against which he/she carries out inspections, including how the findings are supported.

HM Chief Inspector will be expected to establish working arrangements with HM Chief Inspector of Probation to ensure that areas where the two services need to work together are routinely examined in their inspection programmes, and to develop with the Chief Inspector of Probation standards against which joint working is to be inspected. These standards should reflect the separate responsibilities of the two services and would need to include, for example, preparation and follow-through of resettlement plans and risk assessment of prisoners before release or parole. Both Chief Inspectors will work with the Director General of the Prison Service, the National Director of the National Probation Service and the Director of Criminal Policy on the standards to be used.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons is expected to work closely with HM Chief Inspectors of Probation, the Crown Prosecution Service and Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in inspecting and reporting on interdependent areas and matters of common concern.