Victims to be given right to appeal to MoJ over Parole Board decisions
"One of the main criticisms levelled at the parole system was a lack of transparency," justice secretary David Gauke said as he set out refomrs following John Worboys case
Victims of crimes are to be given a legal right to challenge parole decisions without going through the courts, as part of a raft of measures to increase trust in the Parole Board, the Ministry of Justice has announced.
The MoJ said it would introduce a “reconsideration mechanism” in the wake of a major review of the Parole Board, which makes risk assessments about prisoners to determine if they can safely be released or moved to more open prison conditions, after the High Court overturned a decision to release John Worboys in a high-profile case last March.
Justice secretary David Gauke also said yesterday that more major reforms could be on the way for the Parole Board, as he launched a tailored review of the board.
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The tailored review will build on an initial review, the findings of which were published yesterday. A report published by the MoJ said that as well as introducing the reconsideration mechanism, the Parole Board would also publish updated guidance for standard practice to ensure cases are reviewed consistently and enable the public to better understand its decisions.
“This will support greater consistency in how the board reviews cases and provide a greater degree of accountability as it will be clear where the standard approach has not been followed,” Gauke wrote in a foreword to the report.
“One of the main criticisms levelled at the parole system was a lack of transparency, with too many processes undertaken behind closed doors; as well as a failure to properly engage and communicate with victims,” he noted.
The Parole Board and HM Prisons and Probation Service will meanwhile develop a new operational protocol clarifying the roles and responsibilities in the parole system.
In a statement to parliament yesterday, Gauke said the reforms would “for the first time empower victims to hold the Parole Board to account for its decision and help restore public confidence in the important work that it does”.
He said the reconsideration mechanism would remove the need for people to go through costly court proceedings to challenge parole decisions by appealing directly to the MoJ. HMPPS will review cases, which will then be referred to a judge on the Parole Board by the justice secretary if they are found to be “fundamentally flawed”.
“Officials have access to all the information and evidence – as well as legal resources – and therefore are best placed to put together a fully-informed application to the Parole Board where there appears to be an arguable case for reconsideration,” he said.
The decision followed a public consultation on reconsideration measures, which received 74 responses – the vast majority of which were in favour of such a mechanism.
The changes will be implemented via a statutory instrument in the coming months.
The MoJ will now carry out a tailored review of the Parole Board to determine whether there is a need for “further, more fundamental reforms” that would require primary legislation, Gauke announced. It will consider whether the board’s powers or responsibilities should be changed, or “whether it should be reconstituted to deliver its functions in a different way”.
Gauke is required to carry out tailored reviews of all the arms-length bodies sponsored by the MoJ once in every parliament. He said he had decided “now is the right time to launch such a review”, in light of the findings of the initial review.
The review into the Parole Board rules – the secondary legislation governing how the board works – was announced in March 2018 following a successful High Court challenge of a Parole Board decision to release Worboys, the so-called black cab rapist. Worboys was convicted attacking 12 women in 2009.
“The Parole Board decision to release John Worboys, and the subsequent legal action taken by the victims to challenge that decision, revealed the need to improve the way the system works,” Gauke said yesterday.
“I have been determined to address fully the issues that case highlighted and to continue to make improvements to the system of parole.”
The case led to the sacking of Nick Hardwick, then Parole Board chair, in April last year. Gauke told Hardwick his position was “untenable” after the judicial review found the board had not enquired sufficiently into other allegations made against the serial sex offender.
Hardwick was not involved in that decision, but said he bore some responsibility for the mistakes that had been made as leader of the board.
However, the judicial review found a number of failings in the Worboys case were the responsibility of the justice secretary and his department rather than the Parole Board.
Last August a High Court judge ruled that it was “not acceptable for the secretary of state to pressurise the chair of the Parole Board to resign because he is dissatisfied with the latter's conduct”.
Hardwick was succeeded by Caroline Corby, who was made permanent chair of the board last September.
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