The Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove (VC) and the Chair of the Parole Board, Caroline Corby (Chairman), met to discuss the engagement of victims in the parole process.
Implementation of Parole Board transparency
The Secretary of State announced that Rule 25 in the Parole Board Rules (the “privacy ruling”) would be repealed. The Order for the repeal was laid on 30 April and came into force on or around 22 May. It was not retrospective.
Since that time, the Chairman advised that the Board has received 1,500 requests to receive reasons behind decisions for specific cases, most of which were made on behalf of victims. Since June, the Board has issued 500 reasons letters. The VC welcomed this development. She has been calling for this level of transparency and the level of interest on the part of victims has vindicated her position.
The Board has set up a team who draft and issue the letters and these are being turned around within 14 days. The VC was concerned that the letters were being drafted clearly and in terms that victims can understand. The Chairman confirmed that the Board had received very few enquiries in response to the letters. However, it was looking to undertake a formal evaluation of their effectiveness after 12 months.
The Chairman advised the VC of a piece of ongoing work within the Board, looking at how it takes its decisions and seeking to deliver a greater consistency in the drafting of decisions. The VC welcomed this and asked to be kept informed.
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 responded to the public consultation exercise and has met with the team of officials responsible for designing the mechanism. She was concerned that the mechanism should be available to the widest possible range of victims and that victims should have sufficient time in which to consider and then draft a request for reconsideration. If this is not available to them, the mechanism will not achieve its purpose.
The Chairman agreed with the VC. They also agreed that it was critical that Victim Liaison Officers were trained to understand the mechanism so that they were able to support victims and give them accurate information. This is particularly the case because prisoners will have a legal representative to assist them in challenging a parole decision, whereas victims will not. The VC was concerned that there should be a level playing field between the two.
Victim Contact Scheme
The VC is advocating a change in the Victim Contact Scheme to make it a service more closely integrated into victim support services. She is keen that this be piloted and has raised the matter with the Director of the National Probation Service, who has responded positively.
The VC also mentioned that she has asked that the National Probation Service shows greater flexibility when victims ask for limited details of resettlement plans. Many victims are very anxious when they hear that the offender is to be released. Providing some explanation of how the offender is being managed would offer them re-assurance.
Right of review when licence condition requests are rejected or amended
The VC again called for victims to be given and notified of a right of review when they make a request for a licence condition and it is either rejected or varied. She welcomed the fact that victims would be given reasons for Parole Board decisions on licence conditions but asked that this come with a right of review if victims are dissatisfied with the decision. This was consistent with the right of review offered by the CPS and the Police in respect of charging decisions.
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 being conveyed to victims. The VC was keen that it should be so that victims were aware of the right to seek a review if they were dissatisfied.
The Parole Board agreed to reflect upon how this information might be made available to victims. The VC plans to write to the Parole Board to follow up on this and ask how it plans to proceed.
Supporting victims at Parole Board hearings
The VC repeated her concern about the support on offer to victims who attended Parole Board oral hearings. She feels that panels need 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. The VC plans to follow this up with the Board and with the National Probation Service as she is concerned that this issue is not being addressed.
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