Major changes are expected to be ordered in the way the Parole Board is governed after the Court of Appeal upheld an earlier decision by the High Court that it is not sufficiently independent from Government.
The court has given its judgement in the case of The Queen (on the application of Michael Brooke, Gagik Ter-Ogannisyan, David O’Connell and Michael Murphy) v The Parole Board and Secretary of State for Justice, after the Ministry of Justice appealed against the initial decision, made in September 2007.
Appeal judges have agreed that the Parole Board lacks the required independence from ministers to make prisoner release decisions in its role as a Judicial Body.
Mike Pemberton, an associate and manager of the Crime Special Cases department at Stephensons Solicitors LLP in Manchester, acted on behalf of one of the four claimants who challenged the Board’s independence. He says: “We’re pleased with today’s decision to uphold the ruling, which will now mark a fundamental change to the set-up of the Parole Board and could affect thousands of prisoners.”
The issue of independence has arisen after the Board's change of function from that as an adviser to the Secretary of State over the release of prisoners, to that of a judicial body deciding whether prisoners can be released if judged not to pose a public risk.
Currently, the Parole Board, which is funded by the Secretary of State for Justice, must consider evidence on risk which is prepared by the Secretary of State. Offenders must take courses to assess their risk to the public, delivered by the Secretary of State, which can then report at hearings to determine a person’s eligibility for parole. The Parole Board must reach its own independent decision – but with such close ties, there has been a question mark over its objectivity generally.
“This judgement should help the Parole Board to continue to develop in its important role in the criminal justice system with the necessary independence to fulfil its increasing responsibilities,” adds Mike Pemberton.
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