Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Root and branch review of the system of parole and the work of the Parole Board

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The work of the Parole Board has changed significantly over the last 10 years. New rules and new procedures have been introduced. It now holds more than 30 times the number of hearings it held in 2010. In its 2019 General Election Manifesto, the Government stated that it would undertake a fundamental review of the current system. The details of what is planned have now (October 2020) been published. The announcement states:

The Root and Branch review will focus on the following 4 areas:

1.An evaluation of the parole reforms to date:

  • considering the overall performance of the parole process and identifying whether any further measures would help to improve the timeliness and efficiency of the process
  • the response to Covid-19 (in particular with use of online hearings) and its implications on the way parole reviews may be conducted in the future
  • examining the effectiveness of the reconsideration mechanism (introduced to enable prisoners and others ask for a reconsideration of a decision without the expense of taking judicial review proceedings) and whether there is a case for further reform of that process
  • identifying any additional legislative or Rule changes that would further improve the parole process including whether the current release test continues to be appropriate

2.The constitution and status of the Parole Board:

  • examining whether the Parole Board should remain a non-departmental public body or should be made more visibly independent from the Ministry of Justice
  • whether possible alternatives, such as creating a new type of public protection tribunal, could deliver the parole function in a more efficient and cost-effective way
  • considering the need for any additional measures to strengthen the Parole Board’s powers to reinforce its status as a court-like body

3.Improving public understanding and confidence:

  • exploring whether further steps could be taken by the Board and other parts of the system to help explain and publicise what parole decision making is, how it works and what the assessment entails
  • ways to better communicate that parole decisions are not about ongoing punishment for the offences committed and that release is not a reward for good behaviour in prison
  • improving messaging that the parole system protects the public by authorising the continued detention of dangerous offenders and that only a minority of prisoners considered for parole are released

4.Openness and transparency:

  • developing a way for victims to observe oral hearings in a safe and secure way without compromising the Board’s ability to perform its function and obtain the best possible evidence from the prisoner and professional witnesses
  • considering the case for public hearings and whether this would be possible and appropriate in certain limited cases
  • looking at ways to build on the work already done to improve openness and transparency.

The Government observes that:

“the underlying aim of this review is to determine whether the Parole Board in its current form and constitution remains the most effective model for what the future of the parole system may look like; to command public confidence in the decisions it makes; and to deliver its functions in the most effective and transparent way possible, whilst ensuring that there is an effective independent judicial mechanism for keeping under review the continued lawfulness of custody.”

At the same time as these terms of reference were published, the Government also published what is called a “Tailored-Review of the Parole Board“. This was undertaken in accordance with the Cabinet Office requirement that all public bodies are reviewed at least once per parliament.

This review of the Parole Board focused predominantly on operational changes that could be made within the current legislative framework, making recommendations which further improve collaboration within the parole system and highlighting existing legal powers that the Parole Board can use to compel the production of evidence and the attendance of witnesses, with the intention of ensuring that all cases progress in a timely manner.

On the same daty as these two documents were published, the Government also published its first consultation paper which explores options for increasing the transparency of the parole system. The consultation seeks views on the possibility of allowing victims to observe parole hearings and on whether the media and wider public should also be given greater access to hearings where it is appropriate to do so. The Consultation runs until 1 December 2020. The Government hopes to respond to it by the end of 2020

Changes recommended in the tailored review will no doubt be brought into effet pretty quickly. The consequences of the root and branch review will take longer. But a period of considerable change at the Board can be anticipated.

The Terms of Reference are at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/parole-system-reform/terms-of-reference

The Tailored Review is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/parole-system-reform and follow the link

The Consultation Paper is at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/root-and-branch-review-of-the-parole-system

Written by lwtmp

October 31, 2020 at 11:02 am

Posted in Chapter 5

Tagged with , ,

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