The chair of the Parole Board has welcomed the lord chancellor's decision to judicially review the board's decision to release serial sex attacker John Worboys. However, political interference and justified concern should not overturn basic principles of justice, Professor Nick Hardwick has warned.
The government has confirmed that justice secretary David Gauke has sought advice on the plausibility and success prospects of a judicial review. Hardwick said today that the board 'will not stand in the way' and hopes the review would assure everyone that the board has acted in accordance with the law and the evidence. Gauke has already begun the process of making parole decisions more transparent.
The Parole Board currently has a statutory duty that prevents proceedings being disclosed. However, Hardwick confirmed today that the Worboys decision was made by a three-member panel chaired by 'one of our most experienced women members'. The panel considered a 363-page dossier, and heard evidence from four psychologists, and prisons and probation staff responsible for Worboys. The justice secretary was represented at the board's request. Worboys was questioned 'in detail'. The panel also considered a written statement from one victim.
Addressing allegations that some victims who should have been kept informed were not, Hardwick urged the justice secretary to initiate an investigation led by someone independent of the board and the Ministry of Justice.
Long before the Worboys furore, Hardwick acknowledged that the board's processes lack openness and transparency. He said today: 'The Parole Board is in effect a court. We should be open to legal challenge but I hope when people think about it, they will agree it is right we resist political interference in our decisions. Like any court, the Parole Board members must make independent decisions in accordance with the law and on the basis of evidence. It would be a bad day for us all if people's rightful abhorrence of Worboys' crimes or even justified concern about a Parole Board decision allowed these basic principles of justice to be overturned.'
In a letter in the Times today, Labour peer Lord Falconer (Charlie Falconer QC), who was lord chancellor between 2003 and 2007, says that paragraph 16 of the Parole Board rules, which decrees privacy, 'is almost certainly unlawful because it offends against the deeply ingrained principle of our law that justice is done in public'. Falconer said the Worboys case shows why open justice matters. If the justice secretary does not change it rapidly (it is secondary legislation and he can promote new rules), the courts can strike it down on the application of the media. And they should,' Falconer states.