The Parole Board is “absolutely” ready to expand to take on a greater workload if government reforms means it reviews more cases, its chief executive has said.
Yesterday justice secretary Robert Buckland announced the government would introduce emergency legislation that would prevent convicted terrorists from being released from prison without a Parole Board review.
The announcement came after an attack on two people in Streatham Hill in London by Sudesh Amman, who had been released without a Parole Board hearing from a prison sentence for a terror conviction. The incident followed a similar attack in London Bridge in November.
"We cannot have the situation, as we saw tragically in yesterday's case, where an offender – a known risk to innocent members of the public – is released early by automatic process of law without any oversight by the Parole Board," Buckland said.
Currently those convicted of terror offences currently not examined by the board before they are released, and including terror offenders would therefore significantly increase the board's workload.
Parole Board chief executive Martin Jones said today that it "has to deal with the cases sent to it, it’s a matter for parliament and the courts to decide [who those people are]".
He said that the board had grown in the last few years to accommodate an already-growing workload. Its caseload has increased year-on-year for the last 15 years, and it has been given 25% more funding in recent years to enable it to cope, he said.
“We’ve recruited about 75 members in the last year and we’ll keep that under review to ensure we’ve got the right people to cope with future demand and the right experience on the board,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme today.
“I think it’s likely to increase further, so it’s a really important area that we have the right members and the right mix and the right training to ensure those people can cope,” he added.
Jones also defended the work of the Parole Board, which has come under extra scrutiny in recent years following the decision to release serial rapist John Worboys.
“We’re very rigorous indeed in our risk assessments and take account of a range of evidence including, in particular, from the police and the prison service and the probation service and we’ve got many experts indeed on these subjects that review these cases,” he said.
He said figures showed fewer than 25% of people who appeared before the parole board are released. “We are much more likely to keep people in prison than release them,” he said.
He noted that fewer than 1% of people released based on a Parole Board decision do not commit serious releases after being released.
But Jones said there was more that could be done to rehabilitate people in prison, to prevent them from posing a danger to the public once they are released.
“I think it’s absolutely right to say that prisons should be rehabilitative and to reform people so that they are safe to be released,” he said.
“Certainly there is some good work that goes on in prison. I’m sure that more could be done.”
Yesterday the Parole Board announced Peter Rook QC had been appointed as its next vice chair.
Rook was called to the Bar in 1973 and appointed a QC in 1991. He became a senior circuit judge in 2005, spending 12 years at the Old Bailey in London before retiring in 107. He then spent two years as a coroner, and also has experience as a judge on the Court of Appeal.
Jones said Rook’s “considerable experience as a criminal judge, particularly on the sentencing of those convicted of sexual offences, will be a real asset to the board”.
Rook replaces Sir John Saunders, who is standing down as vice chair after just over three years in the role. Saunders will stay on as a board member.
Jones said Saunders had “made a significant contribution to the work of the Parole Board, in particular through his hard work to develop and implement the new reconsideration mechanism that was introduced in July 2019”.