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Parole Board hearings – what next?

In October 2020, the Government launched the ‘root-and-branch review’ of the Parole System.

The review has focused initially on improving the transparency of the Parole Board’s work and Parole Hearings. The workload of the Parole Board has increased significantly in recent years and it now holds around 8,000 oral hearings every year – 30 times more than 20 years ago.

In May 2018, the Parole Board rules were changed to allow it to produce summaries explaining why decisions have been taken and it has since issued over 3,000 to victims, the media, and others who have requested them. In 2019, the government created a mechanism allowing the Lord Chancellor, victims, and prisoners to more easily challenge Parole Board decisions that appear irrational or procedurally flawed without having to go to the courts in the wake of the John Warboys scandal. A blanket ban was implemented on access to these decisions until Spring 2021 however it is expected that the vast majority of cases are expected to remain private thereafter.

Calls for Reform

Parole Board decisions have long been open to much scrutiny. Decisions by the parole board to release prisoners, such as John Warboys, have been the subject of much debate. Concern has been raised about whether the Parole Board process places too much weight on the rights of the prisoner.

Some argue that greater transparency adds to open justice and the ability to effectively scrutinise those decisions. Greater transparency would mean the public could more readily understand the information provided to the Parole Board and how they come to their decision.

However, equal concerns have been raised that the greater transparency could lead to an unjustifiable interference with privacy rights; an increased risk of harm; inhibition of procedural fairness and frustration of the Parole Boards ability to properly assess the risk of serious harm to the public.

Furthermore, there is a wide range of practical and logistical barriers to be taken into consideration. The delicate consideration of the impact on both the victim in being present and the role of the media could place undue pressure on the parole board to reconsider the original offence rather than the current risk to the public. This is further complicated by the logistics of holding the hearings and where? Allowing victims and the media to enter the prison where space is limited and security a concern would leave the only real option of utilising already pressured courtroom space.

Judicial Review

Following a recent judicial review brought by Charles Salvador (previously Charles Bronson) who requested that his parole hearing be held in public, it has been held that some parole board hearings can be held in public. The Ministry of Justice has ruled that victims and the prisoner will be consulted before a decision is reached. It is said the Parole Board is unlikely to agree to a public hearing where it will cause ‘significant distress’ to victims or where the offender’s victims were children. While the ultimate aim of the Government is to increase public confidence in the Parole process and increase transparency, rules governing what information can be disclosed are still under consideration and most cases are expected to remain private.

Jazmine Lee – Pupil 


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