With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the High Court judgment handed down this morning in the case relating to the Parole Board’s decision to release John Radford, formerly known as John Worboys.
This is an important and unprecedented case. The President of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Brian Leveson, the most senior judge who heard this case, said that it is wholly exceptional. It is the first time that a Parole Board decision to release a prisoner has been challenged, and the first time that the rules on the non-disclosure of Parole Board decisions have been called into question.
The judgment quashes the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys and finds that rule 25 of the Parole Board rules is unlawful. This means that Worboys’ case will now be resubmitted to the Parole Board. A new panel will be constituted, and updated evidence on his risk from prison and probation professionals will be provided. The panel will then assess anew whether Worboys is suitable for release.
Those victims covered by the victim contact scheme will be fully informed and involved in this process. My Department also has to reformulate the Parole Board’s rules to allow more transparency around decision making and reasoning.
It is clear that there was widespread concern about the decision by the Parole Board to release Worboys. As I have previously told the House, I share those concerns and, consequently, I welcome this judgment. I congratulate the victims who brought the judicial review and reiterate my heartfelt sympathy for all victims who have suffered as a result of Worboys’ hideous crimes.
I want to set out, in greater detail than I have previously been able to set out, the reasons why I did not bring a judicial review. As I told the House on 19 January, I looked carefully at whether I could challenge the decision. It would have been unprecedented for the Secretary of State to bring a judicial review against the Parole Board—a body which is independent but for which my Department is responsible. I took expert legal advice from the leading counsel on whether I should bring a challenge. The bar for judicial review is set high. I considered whether the decision was legally irrational—in other words, a decision that no reasonable Parole Board could have made. The advice that I received was that such an argument was highly unlikely to succeed, and, indeed, that argument did not succeed. However, the victims succeeded in a different argument. They challenged that, while Ministry of Justice officials opposed release, they should have done more to put forward all the relevant material on other offending. They also highlighted very significant failures on the part of the Parole Board to make all the necessary inquiries and so fully take into account wider evidence about Worboys’ offending.
I also received advice on the failure of process argument and was advised that this was not one that I, as Secretary of State, would have been able successfully to advance. The victims were better placed to make that argument, and that was the argument on which they won their case. It is right that the actions of Ministry officials, as well as the Parole Board, in this important and unusual case have been laid open to judicial scrutiny. I have always said that I fully support the right of victims to bring this action. I have been very concerned at every point not to do anything to hinder the victims’ right to challenge and to bring their arguments and their personal evidence before the court. Indeed, the judgment suggests that, had I brought a case, the standing of the victims may have been compromised.
The court’s findings on how the decision was reached give rise to serious concerns. The court has found that “the credibility and reliability” of Worboys’ account in relation to his previous offending behaviour
“was not probed to any extent, if at all”
by the Parole Board, and that although the Parole Board was entitled to make inquiries of the police in relation to his offending, it did not do so. Those are serious failings and they need serious action to address them. Given the circumstances, I have accepted Professor Nick Hardwick’s resignation as chair of the organisation.
I am also taking the following actions: instructing my officials to issue new guidance that all relevant evidence of past offending should be included in the dossiers submitted to the Parole Board, including possibly police evidence, so that it can be robustly tested in each Parole Board hearing; putting in place robust procedures to check that every dossier sent by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to the Parole Board contains every necessary piece of evidence, including sentencing remarks or other relevant material from previous trials or other civil legal action; boosting the role of the Secretary of State’s representative at Parole Board hearings, with a greater presumption that they should be present for those more complex cases where HM Prison and Probation Service is arguing strongly against release, as was the case in this instance; working with the Parole Board to review the composition of panels so that the Parole Board includes greater judicial expertise for complex high-profile cases, particularly where multiple victims are involved or where there is a significant dispute between expert witnesses as to the suitability for release; and developing more specialist training for Parole Board panel members.
The judgment also found that the blanket ban on the transparency of Parole Board proceedings is unlawful. I accept the finding of the court and will not be challenging this. It was my view from the beginning that very good reasons would be needed to persuade me that we should continue with a law that does not allow any transparency. I am now considering how the rule should be reformulated.
When I addressed the House on this matter in January, I said that I had commissioned a review into how victims were involved in Parole Board decisions, into the transparency of the Parole Board, and on whether there should be a way of challenging Parole Board decisions. That work has been continuing for these past two and a half months. Given the very serious issues identified in this case, I can announce today that I intend to conduct further work to examine the Parole Board rules in their entirety. As a result of the work that has been completed to date, I have already decided to abolish rule 25 in its current form and will do so as soon as possible after the Easter recess. This will enable us to provide for the Parole Board to make available to victims summaries of the decisions it makes.
In addition, I will bring forward proposals for Parole Board decisions to be challenged through an internal review mechanism where a separate judge-led panel will look again at cases that meet a designated criterion. I intend to consult on the detail of these proposals by the end of April, alongside other proposals to improve the way that victims are kept informed about the parole process. I am grateful to Baroness Newlove for her help with this part of the review and to Dame Glenys Stacey for her helpful suggestions and review of the way that victim liaison operated in this case. I will come back to the House with further proposals as they are developed.
In conclusion, let no one doubt the seriousness with which I take the issues raised by this morning’s judgment or the bravery of the victims who brought this case to court. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement on today’s High Court decision.
Today’s unprecedented ruling, made possible by the Human Rights Act, clearly highlights the deep flaws in the initial Parole Board decision. That initial decision clearly caused anguish for the victims—those whose cases have been dealt with—and also for those who have not yet had justice. In addition, there has been deep concern among women and the public more widely. The head of the Parole Board has decided to stand down, but what is needed is real change in the way that the Parole Board functions.
The current legal restrictions on the Parole Board mean that we do not know why the initial decision was taken. That led to a rumour about where Worboys would be released, and even a rumour about his being released without a tag. That is not good for victims, and it is not good for public confidence. It cannot be right that women victims had to go to judicial review before the reasons for the release of John Worboys became available. We also remember the Government making the victims go to the Supreme Court to secure compensation following police failings.
Judges in the judicial review said that too much secrecy about Parole Board decisions under rule 25 of Parole Board proceedings prevents any reasons from being given for decisions made by the board. Therefore, as has been mentioned, the Worboys’ case underlines once and for all that there is a need for the Government to take urgent action and urgent measures to guarantee greater transparency in Parole Board decisions. Given that the public are entitled to be informed about court judgments, they must also be entitled to be informed about the clear reasons behind Parole Board decisions.
Of course, this is not about undermining the independence of the Parole Board, and we on the Labour Benches will defend the independence of our judiciary. It is right that action is being taken to improve transparency. Is the Secretary of State’s review also looking at guaranteeing not only that the public are informed about the reasons behind decisions, but that they are clear about the mechanism to challenge those decisions? Will the Secretary of State commit today to concluding his review of the Parole Board by the summer? We have seen other reviews by the Secretary of State’s Department—on the victims’ law and other issues—slip after initial announcements. Will he reassure the House that that will certainly not happen in this case?
A lawyer for the victims of John Worboys has said that the Ministry of Justice was responsible for preparing the dossier of evidence on which the Parole Board made its decision to release. Will the Secretary of State explain to the House why information about the so-called rape kit used by John Worboys and the sentencing remarks of the judge in the criminal trial of John Worboys were not included in this dossier? Why did the dossier contain nothing about the new information that came to light during the proceedings brought by victims against the Metropolitan police?
The failures in the Worboys case go much wider than the rules governing the Parole Board. It is clear from today’s ruling that judicial review is a key tool enabling every citizen to challenge unjust or unlawful decisions by the state or other public bodies, and we have to be clear about the importance of the role of the Human Rights Act. Deep cuts to legal aid have undermined the ability of many to pursue judicial review. Personally, I do not think that it is right that victims of people such as John Worboys have to crowdfund to pursue justice. Justice cannot depend on the depths of people’s pockets. Will the Government today commit to using their review of legal aid to look again at how it can support judicial reviews?
Will the Secretary of State give us more information about why he chose not to proceed with his own judicial review? To be blunt, does he regret his decision to pursue a cheap headline and brief the weekend newspapers in advance before properly checking whether he should pursue the judicial review? It is not just me asking this question; it has been reported that the Secretary of State’s Conservative colleagues are asking it too, to the extent that the Prime Minister has been moved today to confirm that she still has full confidence in him. The Secretary of State has tried to defend his decision not to pursue a judicial review, although he has not yet made the case properly. Given that, will he accept responsibility for the failings in the dossier presented by the Ministry of Justice?
There have been widespread failings in this case from the very outset. In 2009, John Worboys was convicted of 19 offences against 12 women, but the police have also linked him to about 100 other cases. Many of the victims have raised concerns—and my office has been contacted by other victims—about police failings in the handling of the case. Others have raised concerns about the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute. Of course, we have also seen many complaints about the Parole Board and about the failures of the victim contact scheme properly to notify victims of the parole hearing.
It is clear that we need a thorough examination of the handling of this case, from the very first attack reported to the police by a victim right through to the Parole Board hearings. Given that this is the third occasion that I ask, will the Secretary of State agree to an end-to-end review into this matter—from start to finish? The victims and the public deserve no less.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman regarding transparency. I am pleased that there is cross-party consensus on the need for increased transparency of Parole Board decisions. That should not undermine Parole Board independence, which is important. I hope to move swiftly to change systems in order to ensure that the reasons that the Parole Board has reached a decision become available to the victims. I hope that that will be in place shortly.
The hon. Gentleman touched on the licence conditions. In a way, this is not necessarily as much of an issue as it was. It had been determined that Worboys would be electronically tagged and excluded from London. That may or may not be an issue in the future, depending on future Parole Board decisions.
On the dossier that was provided by the National Probation Service—and, therefore, my Department—for the hearing that occurred on 8 November last year, it is the case that there may well have been information that should have been included in the dossier and that was not provided, but it is worth pointing out that it is the responsibility of the Parole Board to satisfy itself that an offender is no longer a risk to the public. The judgment of Sir Brian Leveson was that the Parole Board failed to probe that evidence sufficiently, as it should have done. I reiterate that the National Probation Service opposed the release of John Worboys.
I made no secret of the fact that I was considering whether to take a judicial review, and I set out in my earlier remarks the reasons why I did not bring that forward. The reality was that the victims were in a better position than me to bring a successful case. It is important that we ensure that when the Parole Board reaches a conclusion that meets certain criteria, there is an ability for it to look again and examine whether the relevant panel has performed its duties as it should have done. Sadly, that is not what happened in this particular case, and that is the issue that we need to fix for the future.
I welcome Sir Brian Leveson’s judgment. The victims have obviously got the justice that they were seeking. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it would have been absolutely scandalous if he, as Justice Secretary, had ignored the legal advice that he got, which sounds to have been perfectly sensible on the basis of facts available to him? It would be a very bad day if Ministers started intervening in criminal sentencing cases in response to campaigning, and did not judge them objectively according to the rule of law and the public interest.
While implementing these extremely welcome proposals, which are obviously needed in the light of all this, would my right hon. Friend make sure that the Parole Board and its panels are not undermined when they carry out properly their extremely difficult task? The Parole Board is often asked almost impossible questions, and we cannot have people making any judgments except on the basis of the best judgment that they can make in the public interest. Criminal sentencing must never be simply a question of campaigning and responding to popular pressure.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, who is also a distinguished predecessor in my post. He is absolutely right on both counts. In terms of whether I took action or not, I thought that it was very important to test the legal arguments. As I made clear on 19 January, I was not going to stand in the way of others and, indeed, others may have been better placed to bring that case. I looked carefully at the advice I had received and based my actions on that advice.
My right hon. and learned Friend’s second point is also important. There were failures in what the Parole Board did, including not probing sufficiently and not being sufficiently inquisitive. We must, however, accept that the Parole Board makes thousands of decisions every year that often involve difficult judgments, and it is not always necessarily going to get it right, but it is not the role of politicians to interfere and second-guess those decisions. We do, though, have a role in ensuring that we have a system in place with clear guidance, clear training and the right people. We clearly need to do some work on that, and I have set out some proposals today.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his very full statement. I welcome this decision, both in respect of the remit back to the Parole Board and on the transparency of the reasons. It seems that there has been a shocking dereliction of duty on the part of the Parole Board. I welcome the actions that the Secretary of State is taking to tackle this. It is important that Professor Hardwick, who has resigned, is not made a scapegoat. I congratulate the Secretary of State on focusing on the rules and procedures, which need to be tightened up.
Something has gone very wrong in this case from the start. In order to get justice, the victims themselves have had to go to court to vindicate their rights—not once, but twice. First, they had to go to court in order to get a proper investigation by the police and a prosecution of the cases. Secondly, they had to protect themselves from the early release of their attacker.
As others have said, judicial review has proved to be a key tool in this respect. It is therefore very unfortunate that legal aid is no longer widely available in England and Wales for judicial review. I urge the Secretary of State to look at the independent review of legal aid in Scotland—I stress the words “independent review”—that was published earlier this month, because it showed that with less spend per capita than in England, legal aid has much wider eligibility and scope in Scotland. Seventy per cent. of Scots are eligible for legal aid. If that can be done on less money per capita in Scotland, then it can be done in England. Will he commit to an independent review of legal aid in England and Wales so that if victims in these cases have to use judicial review, they can have the wherewithal to do it regardless of their means?
On legal aid, the hon. and learned Lady will be aware that we are undertaking a post-implementation review of the changes to legal aid that were made earlier in this decade, and we will conclude that before the end of the year. Certainly, given what she has said, we would want to take into account the evidence in Scotland as part of that review.
As for failures within the Parole Board, I think, as I said, that it is right that Professor Nick Hardwick stand down as chair of the Parole Board. I acknowledge that he has been a dedicated public servant who has done a number of very good things at the Parole Board as well. However, I believe that there have been significant failures and that at this point new leadership is required within the Parole Board.
I very much support the calls by the Opposition for a thorough, end-to-end review. The reality is that these victims have managed to blow open the system using, as we have heard, a very big, popular campaign. They have given us a rare glimpse into something that many people across this House would find utterly terrifying, given the profound errors that have been uncovered by Leveson in the inquiry that he has just concluded. Will the component of my right hon. Friend’s review relating to transparency be completed in advance of the new Parole Board determining the second stage of the Worboys case?
First, let me put on record my tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless work on this case, as he has been a very strong advocate for the victims. On transparency, as I said, I hope that we can make progress in the course of the next few weeks. It is not for me to determine when the Parole Board will next look at John Worboys’ case, but I would be astonished if it were before we had new rules on transparency in place.
Let me place on record, if I may, that Nick Hardwick is a decent man whom I have known for a long time professionally and personally. He has taken his resignation seriously today. With regard to the Secretary of State’s abolition of rule 25, he used the words “in its current form”. What areas of transparency does he expect still to be exempt?
The challenge in this—having seen in this case the decision notice by the Parole Board—is that there might be, for example, information provided by the prisoner to a psychologist, as part of the risk assessment, that is deeply personal. In order to have openness between, say, a prisoner and a psychologist, it must be possible for some of that information to remain confidential, so we cannot put everything out there. Indeed, there may be information relevant to victims that they would not want to be put into the public domain. As I say, a summary of the conclusions that the Parole Board has reached should be made available. The points made by Members on both sides of the House in saying that greater transparency is needed are absolutely right.
I thank the Secretary of State for his very detailed and considered response to what is itself a very detailed and considered judgment by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division. It is perhaps worth observing that it is quite clear from paragraph 130 that the ground on which the Secretary of State was urged to enter the judicial review would not have succeeded.
The Justice Committee wrote to the Secretary of State yesterday raising some of the issues that he has now pre-emptively dealt with in his statement. As well as reform of rule 25 and a proper review or repeal process so that judicial review is no longer necessary in future, will he consider the observations given to us in evidence, and by the Court as well, about the importance of having forensically skilled legal representation for the Secretary of State at hearings in serious cases to test the evidence, and about the desirability of having a serving or retired judge to chair the panel in serious cases?
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. Where there is reconsideration, the second panel should be led by someone with legal, and indeed judicial, experience. One of the things that we are clearly going to have to look at is the degree to which proper legal experience is involved in this process. I agree that it is important that where the Secretary of State has a representative at one of these matters, they are well placed to make a strong case.
I welcome the Court’s decision. Many of us were shocked and appalled by the original Parole Board decision, given the number of vile sexual assaults and rapes in this case. The Secretary of State is right to put forward reforms and to say that there are serious questions for the Parole Board. I hope that he will make it clear that he recognises that there are also serious questions for the Ministry of Justice, which had to put forward the evidence in this case. It is not a good look simply to say that this is about the responsibility of the Parole Board, if we are to get to the reforms that we actually need. Does he recognise that one of the big failings in this case was about support for, and proper information for, victims throughout the process? Will he make that an urgent priority in the reforms that are put forward?
The point about victims is very important. The right hon. Lady will be aware that Dame Glenys Stacey undertook an immediate review of the facts in this case. There is clearly a lot to learn about how victims are treated. In this particular case, the fact that victims were receiving information from the media rather than being contacted directly is not something that we want to see repeated. She is absolutely right to raise that point.
On the MOJ’s position, as I set out in my statement, there is much more that we can do to ensure that information on things like sentencing remarks should be provided as part of the dossier consistently and as a matter of course. Clearly, there were failures in this regard. That is partly why my position in bringing a judicial review was weaker than that of the victims, because they were able to make these arguments in a way that was not open to me. We need to find ways in which we can make improvements across the system. I stress that the national probation service was clear that it did not think that Worboys should be released.
First, may I say to my right hon. Friend that the criticisms of him for not bringing the judicial review are entirely misplaced? He was in no position to do it. Indeed, it is likely that had he chosen to do it, it would have failed, and having failed, it would have prevented anybody else, within the time limit, from going ahead and bringing such a judicial review.
On the wider issue, my right hon. Friend may agree that the problem we have—those of us who have attended meetings of the Parole Board as observers can see this—is that the workload has grown exponentially with the rise in indeterminate sentences. I really do wonder whether we now have a proper process in place for dealing with this kind of case where there is public concern as to when the moment of release is finally determined. May I urge him, in carrying out his review, to consider that he may want to come back to Parliament to have this issue debated to determine what Parliament thinks should be the appropriate way of proceeding, because this is now a quasi-judicial process with immense consequences for victims, but also of course for those who are incarcerated and are seeking to be released?
Order. Can I just gently say, before the Secretary of State responds, that this is an extremely important matter about which we have just heard in the most learned terms from one of our most learned authorities? However, there are a further 16 hon. and right hon. Members seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. The Chair likes to accommodate interest. I gently point out that there is some danger of us reaching a position where everything will have been said but not yet by everybody.
Thank you for your guidance, Mr Speaker.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his remarks. He makes an important point: had I taken a judicial review, it may have brought into question the standing of the victims, as Sir Brian Leveson points out. In terms of the workload, to be fair, the Parole Board had been making progress with the backlog of imprisonment for public protection cases, but it remains significant—there are still something like 3,000 prisoners on an IPP sentence in prison, and they need to be properly assessed.
May I associate my party with the widespread welcome for the High Court decision and the congratulations to the two brave victims who brought this action? I also want to state for the record that I think the Secretary of State has acted properly throughout.
With respect to reform of the Parole Board, the Father of the House talked about the balance between accountability and independence. Because that is so tricky to get right, as we have seen, will the Secretary of State commit today to engage all parties in the House at an early stage, so that together we can strike an agreement on how to manage that balance?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. His point is about accountability and independence. There is a challenge here. I want to make it clear that I do not believe it is the role of Ministers to intervene as a matter of course in individual cases because they do not particularly like the judgment. I have made no secret of the fact that I did not like the Worboys decision, but I made an assessment and sought advice as to whether there was a legal route for me to take action and concluded that there was not. I believe that the Parole Board has to be independent, and I wish to maintain that, but I also think that a balance has to be struck, as the right hon. Gentleman says, and some weaknesses have been revealed in the Parole Board that we need to address.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that the judgment today can be appealed, potentially by Worboys? If so, how long will that process take, and does it have to happen before any new panel can be constituted? Finally, can he confirm that any victims who were not able to feed into the original Parole Board hearing because they were not contacted will be part of any new process?
It is possible for this decision to be appealed. It will certainly not be appealed by my Department. In terms of the timing, my understanding is that the Parole Board is likely to proceed on the basis that this is the judgment in place. I do not think there is more that I can say at this stage.
I welcome the Court’s decision and hope that rule 25 will be abolished without delay. One way to make Parole Board decisions more transparent is greater involvement of victims—for example, by consulting them about licence conditions, using video links for them to give evidence, advising them about the impact of their victim statement on board decisions, and a simple right of appeal without victims having to go through lengthy and complex judicial reviews. Will the Secretary of State commit to those measures?
The hon. Lady makes a number of important points, and I would particularly highlight the issue of victims and licence conditions. We need to look closely at that, and it follows on from the previous question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening). Ensuring that licence conditions reflect the concerns of victims is important.
I commend the Secretary of State for his statement and his swift response to today’s judgment. It is absolutely the case that he should not have brought a judicial review, but equally, we cannot have a system whereby we rely on victims—victims of a serial predatory sex offender—to keep us safe. The primary role of Government is to keep the people safe. Will he look at ensuring we have a system that does that? What assurances can he give us that there are not other cases where the Parole Board has released people who have been deemed dangerous in circumstances where it should not have?
The reconsideration process is a way of ensuring that decisions by a Parole Board panel can be tested very thoroughly. On other cases, I have requested that the Department look closely at circumstances where there is a decision to release a category A prisoner directly. That happens very rarely—I think there have only been six in recent months—but I have sought the Department’s reassurance that there is nothing to be concerned about in those cases.
I am particularly pleased that the Secretary of State says that other civil legal action will be taken into account in future. I have written to the Department about a case where this is relevant. I had a reply from the Department which is full of errors. I wrote back on 19 January. I have not had a reply. Please could I have a meeting?
Yes, I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady.
Ah, the good doctor—Dr Julian Lewis.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does not the Worboys case illustrate the fact that there is a culture of consideration for rapists and murderers that puts the public gravely at risk? Will the Secretary of State be investigating the case of the two murderers who killed two people in two separate incidents in their own homes and who have just been convicted of the horrific rape, torture, throttling and murder by burning in a car while she was still alive of a young Vietnamese woman—not to mention the imminent release of another criminally insane individual who is being groomed for release in his guise as a woman, having previously been convicted of stabbing to death a young woman in her own home more than 66 times?
I suspect that a number of Members will have read about the case to which my right hon. Friend refers, which was covered this morning. Clearly it raises a number of issues. My focus has been on the particular circumstances of the Worboys case and the fact that there was a lack of probing of the information that should have been taken into account in making a risk assessment. These risk assessments are difficult, and sometimes they will be got wrong, but it is our responsibility to ensure that the processes are robust.
I sincerely thank the Secretary of State for meeting my constituents Mr and Mrs Mullins and their daughter Louise last month, following the release of the man who killed their son 30-odd years ago. They were failed by the Parole Board as well. Will the Secretary of State reassure me today that, as we discussed in the meeting, victims must be front and centre of any forthcoming review?
Yes, I will. In terms of the victims aspect, that review will, I hope, be completed by the end of April. I hope to make good progress on that. Meeting Mr and Mrs Mullins and their daughter, thanks to the good offices of the hon. Lady, highlighted how important this issue is for victims and their families.
How will the Secretary of State establish a balance between open justice for the system under which the Parole Board operates and at the same time preventing it from effectively operating as trial by media, because of the activities of the media around famous cases such as this one?
My hon. Friend draws out exactly the tension that we have to resolve. We need to be more transparent; the House rightly demands that. In doing so, we must recognise that it is the Parole Board that would review the documentation and should do so very thoroughly, probe carefully, then reach its conclusion. If those processes are thorough, we have to support the Parole Board in delivering that.
Like everyone else, I welcome today’s ruling. This has, however, been an unnecessary mess, with a somewhat unfortunate scapegoat in Nick Hardwick. The real problems that have been uncovered are processes and rules not fit for purpose, a lack of support for victims and underfunding. The measures the Secretary of State has outlined, including the judge-led internal reviews, are of coursesqueeze-col4 welcome, but given that he does not have enough judges to serve the current case load timeously, how will he ensure that their additional role will not delay trials any longer than they are currently delayed?
What I would say is that it is really important to get this system working well. In many cases, it does work well—in many cases, the Parole Board is making difficult decisions, and in the vast majority of cases, it gets them right—and there are times when we need to recognise and support that. Unfortunately, however, this case has revealed that some things went wrong, and they need to be addressed.
Rule 25 did not exist for most of the years that I conducted litigation on behalf of the Parole Board, and I must say that I welcome its demise. I thank the Secretary of State for taking such timely action, and for making such a thorough statement today. However, I ask him to remember that Parole Board hearings often happen many years after an offence and that victims will have moved on. While it is right that we have open justice—the press are rightly interested in probing how the system works—it is also very important to protect victims, who may well be starting to move on from what has happened to them. In that respect, I urge him to look at the excellent recommendations made by the Justice Committee, which should have reached his in-tray today.
I will, as always, look very closely at the excellent recommendations of the Justice Committee.
The Court said that the wider context of Worboys’ offending was not taken into account by the Parole Board. When the Secretary of State draws up his new rules, will he ensure that they take into account the perpetrator’s actions after he has been in prison? In Worboys’ case, he continued to appeal against his sentence, refused to admit liability in a civil case and finally admitted his guilt only nine months before his first Parole Board hearing, thus ensuring that he piled further agony on to his victims. Although Parole Board decisions should not be decided on the basis of campaigns, does he accept that it is the duty of the House to ensure that justice is seen to be done? It certainly was not done in this case.
I accept that hon. Members are perfectly entitled—indeed, it is our responsibility—to make many of these points. When it comes to the assessment of risk—is someone safe to be released?—that is the job of the Parole Board in these circumstances. Somebody’s behaviour after they are imprisoned is clearly relevant, and such a consideration should be taken into account.
For more than two years, I have raised with Ministers, and raised in this House and indeed in the Justice Committee, the issue of the lack of transparency in the case of Colin Pitchfork, who brutally raped and murdered two schoolchildren in my constituency in the 1980s. It was an unprecedented case because it was the first time in English criminal history that an individual—he pled not guilty—was convicted on the basis of DNA evidence.
I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and I fully understand the reasons he has given for not raising a judicial review procedure. It would have been ludicrous to ask for a judicial review against the Department for which he is responsible. May I, however, ask him for a simple assurance that he will ascertain the timing of the Parole Board for Colin Pitchfork, so that I and my constituents can understand whether the procedure will be the current one or the new one that he is proposing?
My hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner on behalf of the families of the victims of Colin Pitchfork, and I will see what information I can glean on the particular case. As I have said, when it comes to transparency, I hope that we will be in a new position in a handful of weeks’ time.
I am sure everyone accepts that the Secretary of State acted in good faith, but can he explain to the wider public who do not have a legal background why, when he acted on the advice that the victims had the best chance of success, the Government then spent a small fortune employing a top-notch QC to defend and justify the secrecy provisions that the victims’ case was based on challenging?
Just to explain, there were two cases brought by the victims: one was on the substance of the decision, and one was on rule 25. On the substance of the decision, my Department did not oppose the victims. We stood back, and indeed we did nothing to hinder the victims, as I assured the House on 19 January. On rule 25, I had made it clear that I felt it needed to be changed. I considered that to be a matter for this House and for my Department, rather than that the previous rule was unlawful. I thought it was wrong; I did not think it was unlawful.
I welcome the tenor of the statement that the Secretary of State has made. Given that many of us welcome the result achieved by the victims, will he reassure me that he will not oppose any requests from them for costs?
I assure my hon. Friend that the victims’ costs will be paid from the public purse.
My admiration for the courage of the victims knows no bounds, but they really should not have been put in the position of having to pursue this in this way. They have been let down by different sections of the Government, and what was missing from the statement was any sense of apology to those victims for the actions that they have been forced to take because various parts of the Department failed. The Secretary of State referred to the number of cases that the Parole Board have to consider, but this was not any old case; it was a very high-profile one, and there have been serious failings in decision making. Will he take this opportunity to apologise to the victims for the many failures that left them having to pursue justice because no one else would do it for them?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that this was no ordinary case. This case should have been dealt with much more effectively. At the Parole Board hearing, there should have been much greater probing and much greater testing of the case that Worboys made, and I deeply regret that that did not happen. I share the anger that he feels at the fact that victims therefore had to go through this process, and I am sorry that that happened.