Perfecting Parole

What’s going on here?

Recent reforms mean victims of serious crimes now have the power to instantly challenge decisions on the release of prisoners.

What does this mean?

Victims of serious crimes are now able to challenge release decisions by the Parole Board provided they can i) produce strong grounds for the challenge and ii) do so within 21 days. The reforms are a result of the controversial decision by the Parole Board to release John Worboys in January last year. Worboys was a black-cab driver who was convicted of 19 offences in 2009, including rape, sexual assault and drugging charges, and was sentenced to imprisonment indefinitely with a minimum term of 8 years. Upon hearing of his release, a number of Worboys’ victims used crowdfunding to appeal the decision. This led to a judicial review which in turn resulted in a High Court determination that the Parole Board was wrong to release Worboys. Following the strong condemnation of the High Court and the highly publicised nature of the case, the reforms were worked on for the most part of last year and have been announced this week.

What’s the big picture effect?

This recent development follows a trend in criminal law that appears to be strengthening victims’ positions in relation to release decisions. Last year, changes were already starting to be made to improve the Parole Board process. The controversial Rule 25, a blanket ban on disclosing information about the decisions the board makes, was lifted. Now, victims are allowed to know the reasons for a prisoner’s release. This new reform builds on this as victims can not only examine the reasons for release, but also challenge them.

Further, by allowing victims to instantly challenge a decision, they avoid the cumbersome judicial review process which is both time-consuming and costly. Worboys’ victims themselves had to raise £10,000 through crowdfunding to pay for the initial judicial review, a sum of money that most people would not be able to raise. As such, it is hoped that public confidence will be restored in the parole system through more accountability in the criminal legal system and greater access to challenges and complaints.  David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, has described the move as a “landmark reform [which] will for the first time empower victims to hold the Parole Board to account for its decisions”. Including victims throughout the whole process of sentencing and release seems a logical and fair move which will surely foster faith in the criminal legal system.

Report written by Connor B.

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