Victims of crime and the media could be able to attend parole board hearings under plans to increase open justice in the wake of the John Worboys scandal. The justice minister, Lucy Frazer QC, yesterday launched a ‘root and branch’ review of the system to ‘help improve public trust and victim confidence’.
The review promises to deliver on a manifesto commitment and comes a month after plans to overhaul sentencing so that sexual and violent offenders serve longer jail time. ‘Over the last two years, our reforms have made the Parole Board’s work more transparent and easier to understand for victims and the wider public,’ commented justice minister Lucy Frazer QC. ‘We now have the opportunity to take a more fundamental look at the system to ensure it continues to protect people by releasing offenders only when it is safe to do so and does this in the most effective way.’
In 2018, Parole Board rules were changed to allow it to produce summaries explaining why decisions have been taken. According to the government, it has since issued over 3,000 such summaries to victims, the media and others.
The proposals to hold hearings in public has been backed by the head of the Parole Board. ‘Why not hold a hearing where you can have victims sitting in the public gallery and journalists watching that?’ Martin Jones, the board’s chief executive, told the Daily Telegraph. ‘You may want to police who is at it but in reality it would be a court hearing to ensure justice is seen to be done.’
The furore over the possible release of the notorious ‘black cab rapist’ John Worboys having spent less than nine years in prison prompted calls for a review of the Parole Board’s decision-making as reported here. Last year Boris Johnson accused parole boards of being ‘simple slaves to political correctness’. The issue also arose earlier this year when the High Court gave a green light for a legal action challenging the ban on parole hearings being held in public by one of Britain’s most notorious prisoners, Charles Salvador, previously Charles Bronson (as reported on the Justice Gap). Salvador has been in prison for most of the last 45 years and wants his next parole hearing to be held in ‘the full public glare’.
The new review will consider whether ‘the constitution and status’ of the Parole Board needs to change in order to ‘better reflect the court-like decisions it takes and to make sure it has the necessary powers’ and whether sitting as a tribunal, as opposed to a panel, might be more.