Society welcomes parole board hearing review

Posted on: October 20, 2020 by Claire Meadows

The Society has welcomed plans by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to consider allowing access to some parole board hearings to journalists and victims. 

The review, announced by Justice Minister Lucy Frazer QC (pictured) today (Tuesday 20 October), comes in the wake of outrage over perceived secretive decision-making around the planned release of black cab rapist John Worboys in 2018.

The review represents the biggest change to the system since parole boards were established almost 60 years ago and will consider whether victims should be allowed to sit in on hearings and proceedings opened to the press, the MOJ confirmed.

Welcoming the plans, Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors (SoE) said that enabling victims and the press to attend hearings – whether in person or remotely – would enhance public scrutiny and confidence in the decision-making process.  

He said: “The announcement by the MOJ that it intends to review access to parole board hearings for both victims and the press is both welcome and overdue.

“In the fifty plus years since the parole board system was implemented, journalists have rarely, if ever, been granted access to such hearings and this does nothing for public confidence or understanding of how the parole system is run.

“Allowing victims greater access to hearings and opening proceedings to the press would greatly benefit public scrutiny and go a long way to hopefully increasing confidence in what has previously been perceived as a closed-door and secretive system.”

The detailed review will also consider whether the current model – the Parole Board – is the most effective and efficient system for deciding whether prisoners should continue to be detained, the MOJ said. The consultation also calls for responses on whether the constitution and status of the Parole Board needs to change in order to better reflect the court-like decisions it takes and whether alternatives such as a tribunal might deliver the parole function in a more efficient way.

Launching the review, Justice Minister Lucy Frazer QC, said: “Over the last 2 years, our reforms have made the Parole Board’s work more transparent and easier to understand for victims and the wider public.

“We now have the opportunity to take a more fundamental look at the system to ensure it continues to protect people by releasing offenders only when it is safe to do so and does this in the most effective way.”

The decision to review access to parole board hearings comes in the wake of immense public criticism over the planned release of Worboys who was convicted in 2009 of rape and sexual attacks on 12 women. Some of his victims were not told about the parole board decision which was later overturned by the high court.

The call for enhanced access to hearings has also been backed by the Chief Executive of the Parole Board. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Martin Jones, chief of the Parole Board, said that high profile parole hearings in England and Wales should be heard in public to ensure that “justice can be seen to be done”.

Any new system could be modelled on the Canadian processes, he suggested, in which parole cases are open to the victims, the public and the media.

“When you make these decisions, you are sitting as a court,” he said. “I would have no problem, in a particularly high-profile case with a high level of public interest, to move the parole hearing into a court building. Why not hold a hearing where you can have victims sitting in the public gallery and journalists watching that. You may want to police who is at it, but in reality it would be a court hearing to ensure justice is seen to be done.”

The MoJ has said decisions on its review of the Parole Board system are expected to be made by the end of the year.

The MOJ consultation can be found here. The deadline for responses is 1 December 2020.