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Major Reforms to Parole System Following Worboys Case

Major Reforms to Parole System Following Worboys Case

Justice Secretary David Gauke has proposed major reforms to the parole system in England and Wales, under which victims of crimes could be given the right to challenge prisoners’ early release.

The changes would increase transparency and victim input regarding decisions made by the Parole Board, giving victims more information about cases as well as instating a provisional period in which parole grants could be challenged.

Pressure for change to the English and Welsh parole system has mounted in the wake of the Parole Board’s decision to grant serial rapist John Worboys an early release, which sparked public outrage and was later overturned by a senior judge when two of Worboys’ victims sought a judicial review of the decision.

In the aftermath of the Worboys case, former Parole Board chairman Nick Hardwick was forced to resign in March 2018 and a review into the Parole Board was ordered.

Now, the Justice Secretary says that new measures will:

“improve the process for victims, who in this case were clearly let down. It is my ambition that the outcome of this process will mean victims have more confidence in the system.”

Victim contact improvements promised

Under the current law, the only option open to victims seeking to challenge a parole award is the costly and difficult process of bringing judicial review proceedings.

The new proposals would however allow parole decisions to be challenged via a simpler, judge-led process that “in some circumstances” could be open to the public.

In the most high-profile cases, decisions could be automatically reviewed, without any person or group having to lodge a formal challenge.

In addition, the government has vowed to introduce new legislation to amend the Victim Contact Scheme, which aims to keep victims up to date with any important sentence changes with their offender. The legislation will require the Parole Board to disclose the outcome of decisions and reasons given to anyone in the Victim Contact Scheme.

It will also seek to include a broader class of people on the scheme and create stronger communication links between the department and victims of crime.

Lack of communication was a key issue in the Worboys case, in which some of the rapists’ victims said that they learned of the decision to release their assailant from the media.

A public consultation on the proposals and who would be eligible to challenge a parole decision will be open until July 2018.

Former Parole Board chair fears “another justice mess-up”

The Ministry of Justice is hoping that these reforms will restore public confidence in the justice of criminal sentencing and parole systems in England and Wales.

Justice Secretary Gauke says: “It is my ambition that the outcome of this process will mean victims have more confidence in the system,” adding:

“We have moved at pace to address the shortcomings of the parole system which the Worboys case has brought to light.”

Former Parole Board chair Nick Hardwick, who has apologised “unreservedly” for failings regarding John Worboys, has however expressed concern that without more funding, the new measures will simply become “another justice mess-up.”

Hardwick notes that “Ministry of Justice failures in the Worboys case” have not been addressed in the government’s review and that changes to the Parole Board alone will not be enough.

The barrister who represented the two Worboys victims in successfully bringing judicial review proceedings against the rapist’s parole agrees with Hardwick, saying that responsibility did not lie “solely at the feet of the Parole Board” and that the parole system has been conveniently “scapegoated” to avoid addressing wider problems which extend to the Ministry of Justice.

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