The Parole Board decision to release John Worboys, and the subsequent legal action taken by the victims to challenge that decision, revealed the need to improve the way the system works. I have been determined to address fully the issues that case highlighted and to continue to make improvements to the system of parole.
An initial review I commissioned into Parole Board decision making, which reported in April 2018, has led to a programme of reform—in particular to increase transparency and to improve the way victims are engaged and communicated with.
I conducted a public consultation on proposals to create a new mechanism to allow for Parole Board decisions to be reconsidered in certain circumstances and ordered a review of all the Parole Board rules. I am pleased today to announce the outcome of that work and to launch a tailored review of the Parole Board which will examine further options for longer-term reform.
The Government’s response to the consultation on a reconsideration mechanism is published today and I can confirm that I intend to proceed to bring forward changes to the Parole Board rules which will introduce such a mechanism. This will make it possible for Parole Board decisions to be looked at again and, if necessary, re-taken where it appears there may have been a legal or procedural flaw with the original decision. It will not be necessary to bring a judicial review, as happened in the Worboys case, making it easier to challenge decisions.
Victims who believe a decision may be fundamentally flawed, rather than having to resort to the courts and engage legal representation to argue their case, will be able to make a case for reconsideration to my officials. Officials have access to all the information and evidence —as well as legal resources—and therefore are best placed to put together a fully-informed application to the Parole Board where there appears to be an arguable case for reconsideration. This will also make the process as simple and straightforward for victims as possible. Judicial members at the Parole Board will determine the reconsideration application and how the case should be dealt with—whether the decision should be re-taken and whether a further hearing is required. Reasons for their decisions will be provided to victims.
This new mechanism, together with the introduction of decision summaries provided by the Parole Board from May last year, brings much greater transparency and scrutiny to how and why parole decisions are made; and a means of challenging those decisions where it appears there may have been a fundamental error that requires the case to be looked at again.
I am also publishing today a report on the outcome of the review of the Parole Board rules.
The report sets out the measures taken by the Department and the Board itself to ensure the issues highlighted by the Worboys case were addressed and which deliver on the commitments made by last year’s initial review. The report also explains what more will be done to further increase the transparency and openness of the parole system and to improve the experience of victims. Improvements have been and will continue to be made to the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS), training and approaches to the way Victim Liaison Officers (VLOs) communicate with victims; and the commitments in the Government’s victims strategy published in September will further strengthen the entitlements and support victims should rightly expect to receive.
Changes to the Parole Board rules will be brought forward by way of statutory instrument in the coming months. This will implement the new reconsideration mechanism and the other changes identified by the review that have the potential to improve the system. Between now and then we will be making preparations for the implementation of those reforms—in particular by putting in place the resources, guidance, training, and documentation needed to operate the reconsideration mechanism.
Other key changes announced in the report include:
A series of Standard Practice guidance documents will be published by the Parole Board. This will improve transparency and public awareness of the approaches the Board follows in reaching its decisions—and will support greater consistency in how the Board reviews cases.
A new operational protocol between the Parole Board and Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) which will clarify roles and responsibilities within the parole system and set out how the two organisations work with each other.
A new policy framework on the parole process will be published, setting out the HMPPS policy and approach, which will include improvements to the timescales the review found could make the process more efficient.
The review has examined how the rules, parole processes and practice can be improved over the short term within the current primary legislation governing the parole system and the existing constitution and functions of the Parole Board. It has been important to take swift action to address the immediate issues and concerns and to restore trust in the system; I believe the reforms announced in the report published today will help to achieve that.
But I would like to examine what further, more fundamental measures might be possible over the longer term, including the possibility of primary legislation. A tailored review of the Parole Board provides the opportunity to do that. I am required to undertake a tailored review of all the arms-length bodies sponsored by my Department once every Parliament and I have decided that now is the right time to launch such a review of the Parole Board.
The tailored review will explore, in light of the rules review changes, whether there is a case for more fundamental reform that requires primary legislation—including whether to change the powers or responsibilities conferred on the Parole Board or whether it should be reconstituted to deliver its functions in a different way. I aim to publish the outcome of the tailored review in the summer.
Copies of the Government’s response to the consultation on reconsideration of Parole Board decisions and the report on the review of the Parole Board rules have been laid in both Houses and are available on www.gov.uk.