October 20: The head of the UK’s Parole Board has backed proposals to hold hearings to decide whether dangerous prisoners should be released in public, a significant shift from the current closed system.

As part of a body of changes triggered by the ultimately quashed decision to release the black-cab rapist John Worboys, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has launched a consultation into opening Parole Board hearings in England and Wales to a wider audience, The Guardian reported.

Martin Jones, the board’s chief executive, has supported such a move, adding that such hearings should be open to the public so “justice can be seen to be done”.

Jones said the system could be modelled on the Canadian processes in which parole cases were open to the victims, the public and the media.

“Why not hold a hearing where you can have victims sitting in the public gallery and journalists watching that?” he told the Daily Telegraph. “You may want to police who is at it but in reality it would be a court hearing to ensure justice is seen to be done.”

The consultation proposes allowing victims to sit in on hearings and for proceedings to be covered by the press.

In 2018, a Parole Board direction to release Worboys, a serial rapist, was overturned by the high court after a legal challenge brought by two of his victims amid outcry that those he attacked had not been part of the original decision-making process.

After the Worboys case, ministers pledged to improve transparency over Parole Board decisions, which take place after hearings held in private, usually behind closed doors in prisons.

In May 2018, the Parole Board rules were changed to allow it to produce summaries explaining why decisions had been taken, and it has since issued more than 3,000 to victims, the media and others who have requested them.

The proposed moves represent the biggest change to the system since parole boards were established almost 60 years ago.

The MoJ has said decisions on its review of the Parole Board system are set to be made by the end of the year once the results of the consultation are received.

The justice minister, Lucy Frazer, said: “Over the last two years, our reforms have made the Parole Board’s work more transparent and easier to understand for victims and the wider public.

“We now have the opportunity to take a more fundamental look at the system to ensure it continues to protect people by releasing offenders only when it is safe to do so and does this in the most effective way.”

Currently, parole hearings are conducted by a panel of between one and three members who come from a variety of backgrounds, including judges and psychiatrists, and receive extensive training.

The panel considers a wide range of evidence and hears the opinions of professionals who have been working with a prisoner, for example a probation officer or prison psychologist, and listens to victims about the impact the crime had on their lives.

The decision the panel must make is whether the risk a prisoner poses has reduced and can now be managed safely outside of prison.

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/oct/20/parole-board-chief-calls-for-high-profile-hearings-to-be-heard-in-public

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