Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The Parole Board's Day in Court

A big day for the Parole Board in the High Court and in Parliament . Judges will decide whether there is a case for a judicial review of the Board’s decision to release John Worboys while the Justice Committee holds a one off hearing about the transparency of  Board decisions and involvement of victims in the process. Lets hope that in the hue and cry for something to be done, the courts and MPs will not rush to judgment about the way an important institution should do its work.

Much ire has been focussed on the rule that parole proceedings must not be made public. While the case for increased transparency seems to have been accepted without question, there now comes the difficult matter of deciding what information should be put in the public domain. If the Board starts to provide explanations for its decisions in every case, how much information will they place in the public domain? Where a prisoner will live? Their family circumstances? The local community’s attitude towards the prisoner? This is information the Board considers when reaching a decision but its arguable how much should responsibly be shared. A summary of the reasoning behind each Parole Board decision seems to be favoured but steering a line between formulaic cut and paste generalities and “too much information” - some of it of a highly personal nature-will be hard. A decision will need to be made too about whether the names of the Parole Board members making decisions be published.

The media will no doubt press for access to Parole hearings and the case for that may be hard to resist. But the government will need to consider whether this might adversely impact on the participation of prisoners -and indeed victims -in the process.

It is these kind of unintended consequences that need guarding against. If the Board is forced down the road of publishing its reasons, it will become much more commonplace for those to be challenged. Perhaps that’s a good thing but the consequence may be more conservative decision making and more cost all round.

What must be avoided at all costs is the kind of system that developed in the USA in the 1970’s. Repeated parole rejections for prisoners who were not thought ready to be released And when they were ready, further rejection because they simply hadn’t done enough time. There’s more than a whiff of the latter point in much of the discussion about Worboys.

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