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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.

Recent changes

There have been recent 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

Further reforms proposed

The Government has published a root and branch review with plans for further reforms. These include:

  • 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 has been 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’.

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