Justice secretary David Gauke has been advised not to reveal the identities of individual Parole Board panels following concerns about some of the 'very abusive and threatening' responses to the board's decision to release serial sex offender John Worboys.
Gauke is currently reviewing the law, policy and procedure in relation to parole decisions. He has already decided to abolish rule 25 of the Parole Board Rules 2016, which prohibits information about proceedings being made public. In a letter sent to the justice secretary last month, published this week, the Parole Board says members' safety may be compromised if those who make a controversial decision are identified.
The letter states: 'We have been concerned by the very threatening and abusive language used in some responses to the Worboys decision. The names and backgrounds of Parole Board members are provided in the annual report, and the panel is named in documentation which goes to the parties. However, the board would not support disclosure of the details of individual panels to the public at the current time on the basis that members do not have the status and protection of others in a judicial role.
'Similarly, very careful consideration would have to be given to naming third parties such as report writers as we believe this might both place them at risk and constrain their willingness to provide honest and frank opinion.'
The letter states that the board would resist full or redacted parole decision letters to prisoners being disclosed because they often include sensitive material. Medical and psychologists' reports should not be disclosed because this would contravene prisoners' privacy rights. The board would also resist public hearings to prevent sensitive information being disclosed, and ensure prisoners and witnesses are candid.
However, highlighting a 'phased' approach to increasing transparency, the board says the public should have access to current cases and recent decisions which have been approved. Summary decisions for all types of cases should be available on request.
The letter was written by Professor Nick Hardwick, who quit as Parole Board chief after the High Court quashed a decision to release Worboys (now known as John Radford). The justice secretary told Hardwick he thought Hardwick's position was untenable.