The Parole Board
The Parole Board is an executive non-departmental public body, responsible for the parole system. The Parole Board carries out risk assessments on these prisoners to determine whether they can be safely released into the community. It is governed by the Parole Board Rules, secondary legislation that sets out the procedures that must be followed when determining parole cases.
Reforms 2018-19: transparency and reconsideration
In 2018-2019 there were reforms to Parole Board procedures, partly in response to the case of John Warboys (now known as John Radford). Rule 25 of the Parole Board Rules was amended in 2018 to allow summaries of Parole Board decisions to be provided to victims and other interested parties. Previously Rule 25 had prohibited any release of information about parole proceedings.
A reconsideration mechanism was introduced in 2019 to allow the prisoner or the Secretary of State to apply, within 21 days of a decision, for the Parole Board to reconsider certain decisions. Victims can ask the Secretary of State to apply to the Parole Board to reconsider a case on their behalf. The criteria for reconsideration are based on judicial review grounds meaning the prisoner or Secretary of State must have reasons to show the decision was either procedurally unfair or irrational
Root and branch review 2022
In March 2022 the Government published a root and branch review with plans for further reforms, some of which require legislation. The Government has said it will legislate for those changes which require it as soon as possible.
The review included the following reforms which are yet to be implemented:
- Changes to the statutory test for release used by the Parole Board
- A role for Ministers in deciding on release in certain cases where the prisoner is serving a sentence for a “top tier” offence and, either, the Parole Board refers the case to the Minister having been unable to confidently say the release test has been met or, the Parole Board has directed the release of such a prisoner
- A new requirement that the Parole Board must include amongst its members those with a law enforcement background and a new power to allow the Secretary of State to direct the composition of panels to require members with particular experience in certain cases.
Most comment regarding the root and branch review focused on the proposal for a Minister to review release decisions where the Parole Board directs the release of a person who is serving a sentence for a ‘top tier’ offence. Organisations such as Justice, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust have raised concerns about political interference in legal processes and the possibility of ‘political grandstanding’.
Reforms implemented since the root and branch review
- The Parole Board Rules have been amended to remove the previous requirement that all parole hearings must be heard in private. The first public hearing took place in December 2022.
- The Secretary of State will now only accept a recommendation from the Parole Board for a move to open conditions where a period in open conditions is considered essential to inform future decisions about release and to prepare for possible release on licence into the community and where a transfer to open conditions would not undermine public confidence. The Prison Reform Trust says the new tests are profoundly unfair and work against the stated goal of public protection.
- The Secretary of State has made rules giving the Parole Board a power to set aside and re-open its own decisions in certain circumstances.
- The Parole Board Rules have been amended so that prison and probation staff are no longer allowed to give the Parole Board their recommendations or opinions on a prisoner’s suitability for release or transfer to open conditions in the reports they provide to the Parole Board. This change has attracted criticism and was the subject of a motion of regret in the Lords in October 2022. Some criticism has focussed on a lack of consultation.