On 14 April 2015 the Administrative Court (Mr Justice Collins) allowed the claim brought on behalf of an IPP (indeterminate sentence for public protection) prisoner against the decision of the Parole Board declining to recommend his transfer to open conditions.

Philip Rule argued that the panel of the Parole Board that sat at the oral hearing of the prisoner’s review had failed to apply and follow the Directions issued by the Secretary of State for Justice, and had neglected to consider, as it must properly do, the benefits that would follow from enabling the prisoner to progress to open conditions in order to prepare for ultimate release. The prisoner had already completed the punishment set for him. His continued detention depends upon continued risk and in order to evidence progression to enable release he effectively requires open conditions.

In the course of his ruling the learned Judge noted that it is not in the public interest that a prisoner might remain for the rest of his life in prison simply because he is not entirely risk-free. Deciding whether to release a prisoner is a difficult task for the Board, and it is only rare in the extreme for any indeterminate prisoner to be allowed to leave prison subject to licence supervision unless he or she has first spent time in open conditions to enable conduct to be tested so as to see whether indeed he or she is suitable for release. One objective of imprisonment is rehabilitation of the individual if possible. The Directions to the Parole Board have that in mind and must be applied.

Despite noting that it might be said with some force that the degree of risk the panel identified is such that the benefit could not outweigh risk in this case, nonetheless it is inevitable when the risk-to-benefit balancing assessment is made the panel will recognise there remains some risk, and properly balancing matters the question is whether the risk is such as to mean open conditions must be ruled out despite the fact that in the vast majority of cases only through a successful period in open conditions may a ‘lifer’ expect a chance of release.

The Administrative Court accepted the arguments presented by Mr Rule and ordered the decision be quashed.

The Court also acceded to the invitation to order that there be a specific time-period within which time the fresh decision be taken so as to ensure a speedy decision is now taken.

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