Major changes to Parole Board process gives victims more powers
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced “sweeping changes” to the Parole Board process which allow victims in England and Wales to request a reconsideration of a release decision.
It means that from this summer, a judge-led process, known as the Reconsideration Mechanism, will allow potentially flawed decisions to be reconsidered without needing to resort to expensive and legally complex judicial review.
It will be available for decisions relating to all indeterminate sentence prisoners, including imprisonment for public protection (IPP) and life sentences, as well as prisoners on Extended Determinate Sentences.
But the mechanism will also be available to prisoners who wish to apply.
The announcement follows a review of parole processes after the furore over the decision to release the multiple rapist John Worboys last year.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said on Monday (February 4) that the changes “will help ensure that the mistakes made in the John Worboys parole case would not happen again”.
Under the new Reconsideration Mechanism, the Parole Board will issue a release decision and provide a summary to the victim if requested, and Secretary of State officials screen all eligible decisions for potential errors. If a victim asks the Secretary of State’s officials to make a reconsideration application, the officials lodge the application with the Parole Board if there is an arguable case that a decision is flawed.
If a prisoner makes an application, they lodge it directly with the Parole Board themselves. This will all be done within 21 days.
Following that, a senior named judicial member of the Parole Board decides whether the case should be reconsidered. If it is deemed eligible, there will be a new hearing with either the original panel or a new panel, and in the event of a new hearing, victims will have the opportunity to submit a new or amended Victim Personal Statement, and if the application is refused, reasons will be provided. Victims will also be guided by a Victim Liaison Officer throughout the process.
The new reforms will also “improve transparency and offer better support for victims”, the MoJ claimed. The first ever standard practice documents will set out the Parole Board process to improve understanding and transparency, and Victim Contact will be updated for the 21st century, with online opt-in and information sharing.
Another in-depth Tailored Review of the Parole Board considering root-and-branch reform of the parole process which could require “longer term legislative changes” will also take place.
Mr Gauke said: “Taken together, these reforms will help ensure that the mistakes made in the John Worboys parole case would not happen again. We owe that to victims, and I am determined to rebuild society’s trust in this system.
“I set out the first steps to reform the Parole Board last year at a time when public confidence in the parole process was understandably shaken – it was clear that the system had to change.
“We have worked tirelessly in that time to make significant improvements to the parole process. And we are going even further – expanding the Victim Contact Scheme to victims where serious charges lie on file but have not yet resulted in a conviction and allowing much of the process to be done simply online, while boosting the support for victims through their Liaison Officers.
He added that the publication of clear procedures and standards will support quality and consistency in decision making and the new Reconsideration Mechanism “will provide reassurance to victims that if a Parole Board decision appears flawed, it can be challenged and looked at again”.
Caroline Corby, chair of the Parole Board, said: “The outcome of the recent consultation and rules review builds on the work already undertaken to improve transparency and efficiency of the parole system.
“I am particularly pleased to see that the new Reconsideration Mechanism proposed is workable and will be properly resourced. We will be working with the MoJ to create and deliver a service that is transparent, timely and straight forward for victims and prisoners to use on the rare occasion that cases need to be looked at again.
“We are always striving to improve how we work, and the upcoming Tailored Review provides us an opportunity to evaluate the way we are currently set up, ensuring that we have the most fair and independent parole system possible.”