The Victims’ Commissioner (VC) met with Caroline Corby, the interim chair of the Parole Board (Chairman) and Martin Jones, CEO of the Parole Board on 4 June as a routine catch up meeting.
Implementation of Parole Board transparency
The Secretary of State announced that Rule 25 in the Parole Board Rules (privacy ruling) will be repealed. The Order for the repeal was laid on 30 April and came into force on or around 22 May. It is not retrospective.
The Board has already received over 300 requests from victims to be given a summary of reasons for the Parole Board decision. The Board will provide high level reasons for its decisions; and will share with VC it’s guidance to members as to what information can be shared and what cannot. The starting point for the Board was to give as much information as possible. It was keen to lift the veil on decision-making and welcome the political determination to accelerate the process for transparency. It is an issue that had been on the agenda for a while.
The VC welcomed this commitment and was keen to know how victims might ask questions if they were unsure whether they had fully understood the reasoning. The Board would be publishing guidance material on its website which readers of the summaries can easily access.
The VC asked about what information victims will be given about resettlement plans. Some victims were very anxious about bumping into the offender in the street and some indication of resettlement plans might alleviate their concern. The Parole Board will look into this.
It would also be helpful to know if the Board plans to evaluate this new transparency to see whether the letters victims are receiving have been helpful and whether the language used in the letters has been easy to understand. The PB confirmed that it is offering all recipients of a summary the opportunity to provide feedback.
Update on the proposals for re-consideration of parole decisions
The MoJ is undertaking a consultation on how a reconsideration mechanism might work. The VC will be making submissions before the deadline on 28 July.
The VC was concerned that the mechanism will be widely used by offenders and, unless the process is well resourced, it will add huge delays and uncertainty to the parole process, neither of which will be welcomed by victims.
The Board agreed that the re-consideration mechanism would have big resource implications and it was important that the mechanism was adequately funded so as to avoid delays.
The VC and the Chairman both agreed that it was important to set realistic expectations of when a decision might be reviewed. As with judicial reviews, the bar would be high and the applicant would need to have robust reasons why the decision maker had erred in law.
Victim Contact Scheme
The VC stated it was important that Victim Liaison Officers had a good understanding of the changes being made to parole so that they could explain them to victims. She was meeting with the Director of the National Probation Service and will raise this with her. The Parole Board agreed. It has put together a short video explain the parole process and this was on the Parole Board website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/parole-board/about. The VC welcomed this and was keen to have a link on her new website to this video.
Right of review when licence condition requests are rejected or amended
The VC has called for victims to be given a right of review when they make a request for a licence condition and it is either rejected or amended. She welcomed the fact that victims would be given reasons for Parole Board decisions on licence conditions. She asked that this come with a right of review of victims are dissatisfied with the decision.
The Parole Board pointed out that it was already possible for victims to request that decisions on licence conditions be varied/reviewed, but it was agreed that this was not always conveyed to victims.
The Parole Board will reflect upon how this information might be made available to victims.
Supporting victims are Parole Board hearings
The VC was concerned about the support on offer to victims who attended Parole Board oral hearings. Panels needed to engage with victims and make them feel part of the process. There was also a duty of care to victims when they left the hearing as some would be traumatised and upset.
The Board agreed to reflect upon how victims might be made to feel more engaged. A lot of can be achieved by the way in which they are dealt with by the panel and in particular, the panel chair.
Both the VC and the Parole Board agreed that there was a role here for the Victim Contact Scheme in supporting victims after the hearing and helping them to be fully prepared.