Dominic Raab has set out his ‘root and breach’ review of the parole board promising to deliver ministerial ‘oversight’ of high profile offenders. The Justice Secretary also told MPs that he plans to appeal against a decision to release the mother of ‘Baby P’ who died after a long period of abuse. ‘In light of the parole board’s direction to release Tracey Connelly, I should inform the House that having carefully read the decision, I have decided to apply to the Parole Board to seek their reconsideration,’ the minister said; describing the case as ‘appalling’.
The government has long had reform of parole in its sites since the furore arising over a decision to free the ‘black cab rapist’ John Worboys which led rtf the resignation of the than chair Nick Hardwick. It was a 2019 manifesto commitment and, in the run up the election, Boris Johnson dismissed the parole board as ‘simple slaves to political correctness’.
The Press Association reported that the board, which last considered Connelly’s case for a third time in 2019, was satisfied Connelly is suitable for release after hearing she is now considered to be at ‘low risk of committing a further offence’. ’Since being recalled to prison, Connelly has taken part in a “very intensive” treatment programme from the Ministry of Justice and the NHS over three years and is “now able to work openly and honestly with professionals”,’ her report noted.
According to PA, Raab will contest the ruling under the reconsideration mechanism, introduced in 2019, allowing the Justice Secretary and the prisoner to challenge the board’s decision within 21 days if they believe them to be ‘procedurally unfair’ or ‘irrational’. The PA report added: ’But the move prompted questions after the Parole Board document said a representative for the secretary of state, understood to be a Ministry of Justice official who was present throughout the review, “confirmed” the recommendation to release Connelly was “accepted”.’
In his introduction to the review, Dominic Raab claims decisions in recent years to release high profile offenders have ‘led to a loss of public confidence in the parole system’. ‘People have questioned how safe it really is to release certain offenders and why those recalled to prison were allowed to leave in the first place. I share these concerns, which is why I am determined to re-focus the system to put public protection at the forefront of all parole decisions.’
The MoJ argues that the statutory release test (i.e., the board must be ‘satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the person should be confined’) is not being properly applied. Raab writes: ‘I want to make it absolutely clear that prisoners… should continue to be detained… unless it can be demonstrated that the offender no longer presents a risk of further serious offending,’ he wrote; adding that he wanted to see the ‘parole process take a more precautionary approach when it comes to decisions affecting public protection’.
For the last two years victims wanting to challenge a decision to release a prisoner have been able to ask the justice secretary to apply for the decision to be reconsidered. According to Raab, there have been 39 interventions but ‘only four led to a change in a release decision’. ‘Providing for Ministerial oversight of offenders who have committed the most serious crimes, representing the highest risk to the public, will help to ensure the Parole System has the safeguards in place to keep people safe, and can command greater public confidence,’ he added.
I have just sat through the Justice Secretary’s statement setting out his parole reforms. A few observations, starting with details of his plans. THREAD
— Andrew Sperling (@AndrewSperling) March 30, 2022