Parole Board hearings can be held in public for the first time, as part of the government’s efforts to increase public confidence in the process.
In a move welcomed by the Society of Editors, the government is to relax the requirement that all parole hearings should be held in private, enabling anyone – including victims, the media and members of the public – to apply for a public hearing.
The decision follows the case of the planned release of black cab rapist John Worboys in 2018 which sparked campaigns to increase transparency when prisoners bid to be released from jail.
The Ministry of Justice said that victims and the prisoner will be consulted before a decision is reached by the Parole Board, however, the “vast majority” of cases are expected to remain private because of sensitive information.
It said the Parole Board was unlikely to agree to a public hearing where “significant distress” to victims could be caused or where the victims are children (or were at the time of the offence).
The announcement follows a public consultation held last year which found broad support for the move.
The Society of Editors had argued in response to the consultation that granting victims and the press greater access to the Parole Board system will greatly enhance public scrutiny and confidence in the justice system.
Responding to the Ministry of Justice’s Root and Branch Review of the Parole Board System in October, the Society said that the planned release of black cab rapist John Worboys in 2018 had damaged public confidence in how parole decisions are made.
“Allowing victims, the press and the public more widely, enhanced access […] would not only be consistent with the principle of ‘open justice’ – an important foundation of the criminal justice system – but it would also go some way to reversing the public’s perception of the parole system as a historically secretive and closed process,” the Society said at the time.
The MoJ’s response to the consultation – published on Monday (February 8) – outlining the decision to remove the blanket ban on public hearings will be the biggest change since Parole Boards were set up nearly 60 years ago.
The change will be introduced in the summer as the first step in the root and branch review.
It will remain at the discretion of the Parole Board what information heard in the hearing can be disclosed or reported, the MoJ added.
Justice Minister Lucy Frazer MP said: “The government wants victims to be allowed to attend parole hearings if they wish but we appreciate many would find a public hearing distressing.
“Our ongoing Root-and-Branch Review will consider how to achieve victim attendance so that they can see first-hand how decisions have been reached in a comfortable and supportive setting.”
Find out more here.