Sweeping changes to the parole system to improve transparency, offer better support for victims and new powers to reconsider decisions have been announced by the Justice Secretary David Gauke today, following a review of the Parole Board’s rules.
- First ever standard practice documents will set out the Parole Board process to improve understanding and transparency
- A judge-led process introduced later this year to allow potentially flawed decisions to be reconsidered
- Victim Contact will be brought into 21st Century with online opt-in and information sharing
Alongside giving victims the opportunity to request a reconsideration of a release decision, the Government has set out steps to expand and simplify the Victim Contact Scheme by bringing more services online, and the Parole Board will create “standard practice” documents, setting out the processes and approaches to open up the system and improve transparency.
A further, in-depth review will consider root-and-branch reform of the parole process which could require longer term legislative changes. This is the latest stage in the ongoing work to bring more transparency and accountability to the parole process and improve the support to victims.
The publication of the review’s findings comes roughly a year after the Parole Board’s decision in the Worboys case exposed a lack of transparency and deficiencies in the approach taken in that case. Since that decision, significant improvements have already been made – principally removing the blanket ban that prevented the Parole Board from disclosing information about its decision-making. This has so far allowed the Parole Board to provide over 800 decision summaries to victims, the public and media.
Justice Secretary David 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.”
“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.”
“I am also launching a Tailored Review of the Parole Board which will consider if more fundamental reforms are necessary.”
The new standard practice will clearly set out the approach and processes normally expected of panel members when conducting a hearing. This will include the type of evidence considered and how panels should assess wider allegations of offending, which may not have resulted in a conviction, and who is responsible for providing such evidence – issues that were at the heart of the John Worboys case.
Making the decision process and approaches followed by the Parole Board more open and transparent will improve understanding of victims and the public, and give them greater confidence that the Parole Board relies on robust and thorough risk assessment procedures to inform its decisions as to whether to release prisoners who have completed their minimum term.
Further details on these changes:
For the first time, victims will be able to challenge a release decision if they believe it was fundamentally flawed. They will be able to make a case for the decision to be reconsidered without needing to resort to expensive and legally complex judicial review. This process will be available for decisions relating to all indeterminate sentence prisoners, including IPP and life sentences, as well as prisoners on Extended Determinate Sentences. We expect to introduce the process by this summer.
The first step in the process will be for a dedicated team within the Prisons and Probation Service to consider whether there is evidence or indications which support making an application for reconsideration. If that team concludes that there may have been a legal flaw or significant mistakes in the process used to reach a decision, they will put together a formal application to the Parole Board making the case for reconsideration.
Applications will be considered by a senior, judicial member of the Parole Board, who will be named, and will decide whether the case should be looked at again. If that judicial member agrees that the decision was flawed, they will direct how the case should be dealt with – either by putting it back to the original panel to reconsider the evidence, or by ordering an entirely new hearing by a fresh panel.
Victims will be guided by their dedicated Victim Liaison Officer to help them submit their case to have a parole decision reconsidered. The process has been designed to be as straightforward as possible, with electronic applications wherever possible and more simple paperwork. Once the Parole Board has notified its decision, there will be a period of 21 calendar days for a reconsideration application to be submitted.
The review and subsequent reforms were developed in close collaboration with the Parole Board following a public consultation which received 74 responses and heard from key stakeholders, including the Victims’ Commissioner, victims’ groups and the Howard League.
Reconsideration mechanism process timeline (PDF, 143KB, 1 page)
Expanding victim contact services
The review also sets out how victim contact services are being extended to more people, including victims in cases where a serious charge lies on file but has not resulted in a conviction – as was the case for many of Worboys’ victims. It is also now easier for victims to opt-in and out of the service using a simple online application.
In September, the Government published the Victims Strategy to further strengthen victim communication and engagement, and we have rolled out new training for Victim Liaison Officers, with input from external services and agencies to increase understanding of the victim’s experience, and ensure they have the necessary information and skills to support victims.
Tailored Review for long-term reform
Alongside today’s publication, the Justice Secretary has also confirmed that he has launched a Tailored Review of the Parole Board which will consider what further changes over the longer term would benefit the parole process. There are no restrictions on the scope of this work, which will be wide-ranging and will report back by the summer before publishing its findings.
It will consider fundamental issues such as the purpose of the Parole Board, which functions it should deliver, its efficiency and effectiveness and its structure, including whether it should become a judge-led tribunal. This also includes assessing whether the Parole Board should receive additional powers and be monitored by an independent inspectorate.