The John Worboys affair throws up more questions than it answers. Is the case being hijacked by moral entrepreneurs and used to have sentences for rape increased? And will it open the floodgates for what amount to appeals by victims against Parole Board decisions? How will these be funded? Legal aid is stretched enough. Either appeals will be only for the rich or will have to be crowdfunded, which seems a dangerous concept indeed.
Specifically, does this also mean that alleged assaults for which the defendant is never charged and has never admitted prior to his sentence should be taken into consideration by the board? And does he have to show sufficient penitence for him to be considered for parole? That has always been the perceived view, even if it is not one accepted by the board. It seems dangerous that people who may not have committed an offence have to confess to it to obtain their release.
But the only real question seems to me to be this: has Worboys ‘reformed’ and ceased to be a danger to women? It seems pointless to argue his sentence should have been longer in the first place. Perhaps it should have been, but it seems wrong that it should be revisited 10 years later. Then comes the question of the actual hearing. In Worboys’ case it seems to have been conducted by an experienced and well-qualified chair with a number of reports. Phrases in the order of ‘not sufficient consideration to’ have been bandied about, but does this mean Worboys pulled the wool over the eyes of this well-qualified panel and psychologists? Those of us who have acted in criminal cases know full well that over the years defendants will say anything they think the audience may wish to hear if it helps.
So should parole hearings be open to the public? Why not? Sentencing hearings are. Impose reporting restrictions if necessary, but why should these important hearings take place behind closed doors? As my namesake JB Morton wrote, perhaps ironically: ‘Justice must be seen to be believed.’
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor