The liberal judge was expected to receive a knighthood for eight years' work in the Prisons Inspectorate, which turned him into the best known civil servant in the country.
But when the New Year's Honours list was published yesterday it showed 65-year-old Judge Tumim received nothing. Barry Smith, an official who worked for him, was made a CBE, a decision which senior civil servants were interpreting as a deliberate snub to the judge.
In a breach of normal Whitehall procedure, the judge was not consulted about the award to his former subordinate.
Jack Straw, Labour's Home Affairs spokesman, said: "If it is the case that he's been blackballed, it's a petty act which is very revealing about John Major's style of Government."
John Major yesterday defended the integrity of the honours system after opposition parties furiously attacked the decision to knight Graham Kirkham, a furniture tycoon who had given the hugely overdrawn Conservative Party a pounds 4m interest-free loan.
Judge Tumim achieved national prominence after a series of elegantly written and damning reports focused public attention on the state of the jails. His work led to the end of slopping out and the installation of lavatories in every prison cell in the country.
He was a key member of Lord Woolf's inquiry into the state of the prisons after the 1990 Strangeways riot, which recommended that serious attempts should be made to turn prisoners away from crime.
Previous Tory Home Secretaries - including Kenneth Baker and Douglas Hurd - valued him as an independent source of information on what was going on in the 130 prisons in England and Wales.
But when Michael Howard became Home Secretary in 1993 and committed the party to the hard-line "prison works" policy, tensions built up as the judge repeatedly revealed how badly many prisons were managed.
Although he always avoided directly criticising government policy, the judge made little attempt to hide his concern. He warned that the Government's policy of putting security above humane treatment was "the road to the concentration camp if you go too far along it".
Judge Tumim was effectively fired in the summer when Mr Howard did not extend his contract, even though the judge would have been happy to continue with his work.
Judge Tumim decided not to make a public fuss about his dismissal as he envisaged the offer of another government post. But it became clear that ministers had no intention of giving him another job. He expected to be considered for a post on the new independent panel to investigate miscarriages of justice, but was not shortlisted.
Other public figures have received honours in recognition of their charitable work. Judge Tumim would also have qualified on these grounds. He and his wife, Winifred, have worked for the National Deaf Children's Society since the 1970s. He is President of the Royal Literary Fund, an honorary fellow of the London School of Economics and a former chairman of the Friends of the Tate Gallery. He is also the author of Great Legal Fiascos, and Great Legal Disasters, studies of the follies of the law.Reuse content