Philip Rule chairs Reform of the Parole Board: Open Justice and Rehabilitation seminar by the Human Rights Lawyers’ Association

Wed, 04 Jul 2018

On 3rd July 2018 the Human Rights’ Lawyers Association brought together three distinguished guest speakers to discuss issues arising from the Worboys case earlier this year, and the issues for the current consultation on reform of the Parole Board system (that closes on 28th July for consultation responses).

Professor Nick Hardwick, former Chair of the Parole Board, and former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons from 2010-2016, explained that he advocated for greater openness to the parole process, and had successfully overseen steps to address systemic delay problems. He was forced out from the Board following the ‘Worboys’ challenge to the parole board panel’s release decision, and he called for independence at the Board to be assured to its members, by placing the Chairmanship in the hands of a senior judge, and changing the board’s status to one equivalent to an independent tribunal or court. He had heard of an estimated 4 month period for the reconsideration process of decisions (i.e. the time during which someone’s release decision might be held in abeyance).

Phillippa Kaufmann QC, of Matrix Chambers, a leading silk in prisoners’ rights matters and human rights cases, she represented one of the victims bringing the ‘Worboys’ judicial review challenge. She explained why the proposed reconsideration system is entirely unnecessary and costly, and likely only to damage access to the High Court whilst introducing no real benefits for anyone, but likely to have adverse impact on the functioning of the parole board.

Dr. Laura Janes, Legal Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, and Chair of the Legal Action Group, explained the present parole system’s effect upon vulnerable young people in custody, and those serving life sentences, and pointed to the costs of the new scheme, estimated to be £30million without taking into account additional stays in prison during the review process.

Philip Rule, of No5 Barristers' Chambers, who chaired the event, says:

“The HRLA and I are very grateful to our three speakers who provided a very lively and informed debate, and gave food for thought for those of us who are working in this area and who will wish to respond to the consultation to try to prevent an unworkable system being introduced as a hasty response to a case actually concerned with simply evidential failings by the Secretary of State’s officers and lack of sufficient enquiry by one panel in a particularly exceptional case.

I am also very grateful to the audience who contributed interesting questions and points of view to the debate”

No5’s James Dixon also spoke on 2 July at a conference in Cambridge on this important and current debate as to the question of parole reform https://www.no5.com/news-and-publications/news/1758-james-dixon-to-speak-on-law-and-theory-at-a-cambridge-centre-for-criminal-justice-conference/

The consultation

The Ministry of Justice in its reform proposals in particular proposes new provision for challenges to parole decisions. There are important competing interests of transparency, openness, accountability and rehabilitation, and the continued independence of the Board, and its willingness and ability to release prisoners where the statutory conditions are met.

All those working in this field are encouraged to read the (relatively short) consultation and to comment. Philip warns:

“In its present form the scheme looks to be pretty much unworkable, and likely to only lead to future delays to parole hearings returning and loss of liberty entirely avoidably for political grandstanding reasons. This will be without making the victims’ experience of the system better (more informed and engaged) but rather worse (more adversarial and likely to be regarded as against them). In particular given how infrequently there will be additional information from a victim relevant to the one statutory question the Parole Board is actually required to make as to current risk assessment, it seems odd to suggest a system whereby not the parties that include the Secretary of State, but the victim will have the onus, and perhaps feel undue and unnecessary pressure too, to challenge a decision to release, and without the full knowledge of the evidence in the case often heard at an oral hearing”

The consultation can be accessed at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/justice-secretary-announces-ambitious-first-steps-in-overhaul-of-parole-board

and the related January review 'findings' of the MOJ at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-the-law-policy-and-procedure-relating-to-parole-board-decisions

Human Rights Lawyers’ Association

The event was arranged by Philip, an executive committee member, and Angela Patrick of Doughty Street Chambers, who Chairs the HRLA.

Membership of the Human Rights Lawyers’ Association is open to all lawyers, academics, judges, and students with an interest in this wide area of practice. You can join here: https://www.hrla.org.uk/individual-membership/

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