In April 2021, JUSTICE announced this Working Party, which will examine the role, powers, and procedures of the Parole Board & wider system.
Those detained by the State must be afforded appropriate access to justice to enforce their rights. In particular, the decision-making body responsible for determining continued detention must be able to carry out this fundamental role fairly, independently and effectively. Despite this, the system has not benefited from a comprehensive, focused, and independent review by a group of experts in the field.
Backlogs and delays have plagued the parole system in recent years, which in turn delay someone’s release. In particular, recalls of prisoners on licence have surged in the last decade, now making up 14% of the prison population. Moreover, the parole process can be particularly difficult to navigate and raises a multitude of human rights concerns around effective participation and procedural fairness. There is a clear disregard for how the process impacts on prisoners and their ability to participate in the process. Studies which have looked at prisoners’ understanding and experience have indicated feelings of anxiety, powerlessness, voicelessness, frustration, disengagement and a deep sense of “irrational justice”.
This Working Party will examine the role, powers, and procedures of the Parole Board and the broader parole system of England and Wales. It will consider whether the Parole Board’s decision-making processes are fit-for-purpose and fair. The review will place particular focus on groups overrepresented throughout the criminal justice system and those who face particular challenges in participating. It will make practical recommendations aiming to ensure that those involved in the parole process are not detained for longer than is necessary and lawful.
This Working Party shall take place alongside the Government’s own ‘Root and Branch Review’ of the Parole System, which it announced in October 2020. The Working Party’s findings shall be used to inform JUSTICE’s own response to this consultation as it progresses.
The members of the Working Party are:
Professor Nicola Padfield QC (Hon), University of Cambridge (Chair)
Dr. Harry Annison, University of Southampton
Sir David Calvert-Smith QC, former Director of Public Prosecutions, and former Chair of the Parole Board
Marc Conway, Prisoner Engagement Co-ordinator, Prison Reform Trust
Simon Creighton, Founding Member and Consultant, Bhatt Murphy Solicitors
Ryan Herbert, Serving Indeterminate Sentence Prisoner and Current Criminal Justice Postgraduate
Dr. Laura Janes, Legal Director, Howard League for Penal Reform
Chitra Karve, Panel Chair, Parole Board Shkar Kider, Solicitor, Kesar & Co Solicitors
Dean Kingham, Prison and Public Law Solicitor, Reece Thomas Watson Solicitors
Sir David Latham QC, former Lord Justice of Appeal and former Chair of the Parole Board
HH Daniel Pearce-Higgins QC, former Circuit Judge, Legal Member of the Mental Health Review Tribunal
HH John Samuels QC, former judicial member, Parole Board
Deirdre Smythe, Barrister, Clerksroom Chambers
Karen Walton, Barrister, Drystone Chambers
Rapporteur: Tyrone Steele, Criminal Lawyer, JUSTICE, assisted by Siven Watt, Senior Legal Fellow, JUSTICE
We are grateful to Hogan Lovells for generously supporting this Working Party.
The report explores parole through each stage of the process. Our findings show that it is not working as effectively as it should. This has significant consequences, not only for those prisoners who could be released, but also for victims, whose assailants too often lack the opportunity for any meaningful rehabilitation and therefore risk reoffending upon release, and taxpayers, who are entitled to expect public money to be utilised in a way that delivers results.
Key recommendations include:
Replacing the Parole Board with a Parole Tribunal, which will have the necessary powers, respect from third parties (such as police and probation), and authority to make fully independent decisions without Government interference.
Requiring that the State, rather than the individual in prison, justify any continued detention beyond the minimum term, so that the responsibility for demonstrating the (un)manageability of risk is properly allocated.
Reforming the recall process, which would require that facts of an alleged breach of a licence condition are established in a magistrates’ court before the recall takes place, after which the case can go to the Parole Tribunal to consider the issue of risk and whether re-incarceration is appropriate.
Placing rehabilitation at the heart of the parole process, by giving the Parole Tribunal oversight of an individual’s progression through prison, including of executive decisions which impact their chance to be released.
Greater accessibility of information for those in prison, their families, and victims, so that everyone is given the tools they need to properly participate in the parole process. This includes creating a duty for the newly-established Parole Tribunal to update those in prison and, where relevant, victims, on the progression of the case, as well as providing general information about the parole process.
Enhancing the Parole Board’s programme of training to include areas such as sentencing, procedure, prison law and policy, critical analyses of offending behaviour programmes and risk management tools, equality and diversity, cultural awareness, vulnerable people (including those with mental health and neurodiverse conditions and children).
Greater rigour when imposing licence conditions, requiring that the Probation Service only be able to request that the Parole Tribunal impose licence conditions where it has demonstrated, with clear written explanations, how they are reasonable and proportionate, and their impact on an individual’s chances of successful rehabilitation.
Significantly expanding the provision of accommodation for those released from prison, so as to guarantee that nobody is released homeless. The Ministry of Justice should also review the provision of accommodation for particular categories of prisoners, such as women, older prisoners, and those with complex health needs.
Read the full report (PDF).
Read the press release (PDF).
Please direct queries to Stephanie Needleman, Acting Legal Director.