The purpose of this statement is to advise the House as to changes I am making in respect of arrangements my Department makes for sponsoring the Parole Board, an executive non-departmental public body (ENDPB).
In its judgment handed down on 1 February in the case of “Brooke” the Court of Appeal ruled that, as a consequence of its current sponsorship arrangements, the Parole Board was not sufficiently independent of the executive to meet the requirements of article 5(4) of the ECHR. In reaching this conclusion the Court acknowledged that the Parole Board had evolved from an advisory body to a judicial body.
The Court of Appeal found that the Parole Board should not be sponsored by the National Offender Management Service as is currently the case and that the Secretary of State should ensure that the sponsorship responsibility for the board was placed in another part of the Ministry of Justice where its independence is not open to question. However, the Court of Appeal also ruled that the status of the board as an ENDPB is not incompatible with independence.
The Parole Board has an important role in determining whether to release some of potentially the most dangerous offenders within the criminal justice system. I fully recognise that its decisions in individual cases must both be and be seen to be free of interference by its sponsoring Department.
I have decided not to seek leave to appeal against the court’s findings. Instead I have given careful consideration to how the Parole Board’s sponsorship arrangements should be altered to meet the concerns of the court.
From 1 April sponsorship of the Parole Board will be transferred from the National Offender Management Service to the Access to Justice Group in the Ministry of Justice. Although responsibility for sponsorship of the Parole Board will remain within the Ministry, there will be a clear separation between responsibility for the board’s sponsorship and responsibility for the management of offenders.
These new sponsorship arrangements underline my commitment to enhancing and protecting the independence of the Parole Board and I commend them to the House.