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Justice Secretary Unveils Parole System Reforms

Justice Secretary Unveils Parole System Reforms


Newly announced reforms to the parole system will enable victims to challenge decisions to release the most serious criminals without going through a court battle. Justice Secretary David Gauke unveiled the proposals after ministers pledged last year to overhaul the parole system following the John Worboys scandal.

Under the measures, victims who think that a parole decision is fundamentally flawed will submit their concerns via the Justice Secretary through a new “reconsideration mechanism.” These applications will then be assessed by HM Prisons and Probation Service, who will determine whether there may have been a legal error or significant mistake in a given parole decision.

Decisions deemed potentially significantly flawed will then be referred to a senior judicial member of the Parole Board, who will then decide whether the decision requires a review. Proposals stipulate that victims will have 21 days after a parole decision to apply for review, with no fee for this application. However, applicants will not be entitled to free legal aid in making their application.

The proposals are aimed to prevent a repeat of the Worboys scandal, in which the parole board decided to release a serial rapist jailed indefinitely in 2009 for 19 offences against 12 women after just ten years in prison.

“Taken together, these reforms will help ensure that the mistakes made in the John Worboys parole case would not happen again,” the Justice Secretary affirmed.

Proposals seek to fix ‘mistakes’ of Worboys case

The Parole Board came under fire in 2018 for releasing serial rapist Worboys straight from maximum security prison, just two years after he admitted guilt for the crimes of which he was convicted in 2009.

The board did not release any reasoning behind its highly unusual decision, with Worboys’ victims not notified and some only learning of his release through the media. Two of the former taxi driver’s victims resorted to launching a costly judicial review to challenge the decision, with the High Court overturning it in March. Failings in the case led to significant public outcry and Nick Hardwick’s resignation as chairman of the Parole Board, as well as promises of reform to the parole system.

While the new reform proposals would enable victims of crime to challenge the release of their assailants without having to resort to costly court battles, they would nonetheless still leave victims to oppose parole decisions without receiving legal advice. As a result, the proposals have had a mixed reception from legal professionals and criminal justice advocates.

Some welcome the reforms as a “step in the right direction” whilst others feel that the proposals leave victims with even less support, offering shorter time limits and less expert consideration than a judicial review.

Critics feel new process is ‘harder’ than judicial review

Criticisms of the reform proposals include the lack of legal aid provision for victims and delegation of judicial review powers to civil servants rather than judges.

One lawyer who represented Worboys’ victims in their judicial review of the parole board’s decision stated that this change would not help in similar cases, noting that instead it “could become even harder to bring a judicial review.”

Centre for Women’s Justice founder Harriet Wistrich meanwhile expressed “concern” regarding “how a Ministry of Justice official will be able to determine to a judicial review standard that a decision is flawed.”

Victims’ Commissioner Baroness Newlove voiced reservations regarding the 21-day time limit for making an application – which compares to a three-month window for launching a judicial review.

The Victims’ Commissioner urged:

“If this challenge process is to be meaningful, victims must have a sufficient window of time to consider the Parole Board reasoning before deciding whether to challenge. I will want to be sure that this is on offer in every case.”

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(Image attribution: Chris McAndrew)