Chair of the Lay Observers’ National Council

Body: Ministry of Justice
Appointing Department: Ministry of Justice
Sector: Judicial, Prison & Policing
Location: London
Skills required: Regulation
Number of Vacancies: 1
Remuneration: The role is unremunerated but reasonable standard travel expenses will be payable
Time Requirements: Up to eight days per month

Campaign Timeline

  • Competition Launched


  • Closed for Applications

    27/02/2023 at 11:00

  • Panel Sift

    March (TBC)

  • Final Interview Date

    April/May (TBC)

  • Announcement

    June (TBC)


Assessment Panel

Vacancy Description

This is an exciting opportunity to lead the Lay Observers, at a time when independent scrutiny, is high on Ministerial agendas.
The Lay Observers role is to inspect conditions in which detained persons are transported or held by escort and custody contractors in England and Wales and we require a voluntary, part-time Chair to provide strategic oversight to the organisation. Lay Observers operate independently of Government and are part of the UK’s National Preventive Mechanism, under the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, (OPCAT).
There are currently 48 Active Lay Observer members, excluding the Chair, who operate in England and Wales. Lay Observers are unpaid public appointees appointed by the Secretary of State under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (section 81(1)(b)).

Person Specification

Operationally independent of Government, the Chair will be expected to lead the Lay Observers and challenge the Government to improve conditions, through regular engagement with senior government stakeholders as well as well-designed recommendations in an Annual Report. The Chair is responsible for leading the work of the Lay Observers and ensuring that there are systems, policies and guidance to assist Lay Observers to perform their statutory responsibilities effectively and independently. They are expected to lead the organisation in light of the protocol agreed with MoJ which sets out its remit and functions.

The National Council considers matters relevant to all Lay Observers and is led by the Chair. It is responsible for:

  • developing the strategy and culture of the organisation;
  • providing mechanisms for Lay Observers reporting on the conditions in which detainees are held and transported by escort contractors’ staff;
  • ensuring visits are carried out by Lay Observers, reports are completed, and concerns brought to the attention of the Prisoner Escort & Custody Service Contract Delivery Managers, HMCTS and other relevant stakeholders;
  • maintaining Lay Observers membership at a level which allows them to perform their duties; ensuring the recruitment of Lay Observers is conducted fairly, openly and on merit. The Chair convenes and oversees the work of the Lay Observers’ National Council. The Chair also ensures that, on a regional basis, monitoring is appropriately performed by the Lay Observers and that their work properly dovetails with that of other bodies, such as the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) and prison inspectors.

The Chair is the principal Lay Observer representing the organisation, as well as the national media spokesperson and national liaison point with Ministers, the Department, Parliament, His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS), His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and partner organisations. The Chair and National Council are supported by a Secretariat that is shared with the Independent Monitoring Boards; the Chair task manages the CEO of Secretariat.

In the Prisons Strategy White Paper, the Ministry of Justice has committed to bringing forward legislation to combine the IMBs’ Management Board and Lay Observers’ National Council into a single Board under a single Chair – both of which are to be recognised in legislation. The Chair will will be responsible for leading this work with the Chair of the IMBs.

Therefore, whilst the length of tenure for this post is advertised as 3 years, this may be shorter if a legislative slot is obtained, and legislation is laid during this time.

Further information on the role of the Lay Observers can be found here.

Essential criteria

Candidates will be able to demonstrate the following:

  • Well-developed leadership, chairing and governance skills;
  • Ability to demonstrate a commitment to the fair and humane treatment of others;
  • A strong track record of driving forward cultural change and improvement in an environment where strong accountability is key;
  • Strong analytical skills, with the ability to ensure that the organisation produces evidence-based reports,
  • Experience of building strategic partnerships and successful collaborative working relationships; and
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills with the ability to engage capably and constructively with a wide range of stakeholder groups including Ministers, senior officials in Government, senior leads in the inspectorate/scrutiny/national preventive mechanism arena, parliamentarians and the media.

Desirable criteria

  • Evidence of valuing and promoting diversity;
  • An understanding of the Criminal Justice System and the particular opportunities and challenges faced by volunteers; and
  • Interest, knowledge and experience of issues faced by those in custody and those who manage prisoners/detainees on a day-to-day basis.

Additional Information

Tenure: Public appointments are offered on a fixed term basis. We do this to ensure that the leadership of our public bodies is regularly refreshed and that the LOs can benefit from new perspectives and ideas. In line with the Governance Code on Public Appointments, there is a strong presumption that no individual should serve more than two terms or serve in any one post for more than ten years.

The appointment will be for three years, this may be shorter if a legislative slot is obtained, and legislation is laid during this time.

How to Apply

To make an application, please send:

A CV (maximum two sides of A4) detailing your qualifications, employment history and any appointments or offices you hold. Please also provide your preferred contact number and email address.

A personal statement (maximum two sides of A4) providing evidence against the role criteria and your suitability for the post, including evidence of leadership qualities and a vision for the organisation. Please consider the role and criteria carefully in preparing your statements. Information from Advisory Assessment Panels indicates that applications which offer specific and tailored examples against the criteria, making clear the candidate’s role in achieving an outcome are often the strongest.  Structuring the statement around the criteria using relevant headings also aids clarity.

Guidance on how to write a successful application can be found at Appendix 2 of the Candidate Information Pack.

Please also complete the Supporting Documents form (attached separately on the cabinet office website)

Diversity monitoringPlease complete this online form HERE. Information is requested for monitoring purposes only and plays no part in the selection process.  It will be kept confidential and will not be seen by the AAP.

Please send your CV, personal statement and supporting documents to: quoting reference PAT160055 in the subject line of your emailWe will acknowledge receipt.

If you have any questions about any aspects of this post, you are welcome to contact Paul Norris at


Supporting-Documents- March 2022
Lay Observers Chair - Candidate Information Pack 080223
Return to Search