Victims will be able to challenge parole decisions without having to go through the 'onerous step' of issuing judicial review proceedings, the government has proposed, after publishing the findings of its urgent review on how the Parole Board operates. The proposal is part of a raft of measures announced by justice secretary David Gauke over the weekend to make the parole system more transparent.
Gauke has already pledged to remove a blanket ban on information being disclosed about parole decisions after the High Court quashed the Parole Board's decision to release 'black cab rapist' John Worboys and said that rule 25 of the Parole Board Rules 2016 (prohibiting information about proceedings being made public) is unlawful.
The Ministry of Justice has now confirmed that the rules will be amended so that victims engaged with the Victim Contact Scheme receive a summary of the Parole Board's decision to release or not release an offender, unless there are exceptional circumstances or the victim does not want to be informed. A summary will be provided to parties who request it if the Parole Board chief thinks disclosure is justified in the principle of open justice.
The ministry has begun consulting on a judge-led external review mechanism, which would operate as a separate division of the Parole Board. Some hearings could be open to the public. The ministry envisages the Parole Board issuing a 'provisional decision' on whether or not to release a prisoner. Applications can be made for a Parole Board decision to be reconsidered before it becomes 'final'. A judicial member of the Parole Board would assess whether the application meets the required threshold. If it does, the previous panel may be reconvened to reconsider the case or a new panel, chaired by a judge, would hear it.
The ministry has also published terms of reference for a comprehensive review of all 27 Parole Board rules. The findings will be published later this year.
Gauke said: 'We have moved at pace to address the shortcomings of the parole system which the Worboys case has brought to light. But we must take a balanced approach.'
Responding to the review, Parole Board chief executive Martin Jones said: 'The Parole Board welcomes the change to the Parole Board rule to allow for the greater transparency of the parole process, which we have called for previously. We will be carefully considering all the implications of the review and will be responding to the consultation about the potential introduction of a reconsideration mechanism while also preserving the independence of the Parole Board.'