The High Court decided in March 2023 that Justice Secretary Dominic Raab had acted unlawfully by implementing rules preventing witnesses from providing opinion evidence to the Parole Board. They described this as an “attempt by a party to judicial proceedings to influence to his own advantage the evidence given by a witness employed or engaged by him”.
In a second judgment in the same case (Bailey and Morris), the High Court considered whether the Secretary of State and/ or his officials may have acted in contempt of court and, if so, how this should be addressed.
You can read the judgment here:
‘Contempt of court’ is a legal concept which would benefit from simplification. The Law Commission published a report aimed at ‘non-specialists’ a few years ago which tried to address this:
They described it as “the area of law which deals with behaviour which might affect court proceedings. It takes many different forms, ranging from disrupting court hearings to disobeying court orders to publishing prejudicial information which might make the trial unfair”.
Raab instructed his lawyers to argue that the Parole Board should not be regarded as a court and so contempt of court should not apply to Parole Board proceedings. This was rejected by the High Court. They concluded that the High Court had an obligation to consider whether to initiate proceedings for contempt of court whenever they considered that a contempt of court “may have been committed”.
This applied to Ministers and their officials as well as anyone else.
They concluded that the Court was not required to initiate proceedings for contempt where a formal explanation of the breach, supported by witness statements, had been given, and where it concluded that the breach was not intentional and that measures had been put in place to avoid any recurrence.
The evidence which had been presented to the court did not explain by what process, or by whom, the relevant Guidance was drafted or whether it was approved by Raab. They concluded that Raab should be given a further opportunity to file further evidence after which they will decide whether to initiate contempt proceedings.
This is quite the story. Contempt of court is designed to protect the administration of justice and the rule of law. Raab is the Lord Chancellor. Part of the Lord Chancellor’s role is to ensure that the rule of law is upheld within Cabinet and across Government.
Why is the Prime Minister not being asked about Raab’s suitability for this role?
At the heart of this is Raab’s barely concealed contempt for the Parole Board. He is in the process of weakening the Parole Board and increasing the power of politicians over the administration of justice. He is not being challenged about this.
Where is the evidence that the public would prefer Raab to make parole decisions than trained and experienced Parole Board members? Does the public trust politicians more than courts?
Andrew Sperling is a Solicitor-Advocate and Director of SL5 Legal, specialising in public law, Parole Board advocacy and human rights.
This article is based on a Twitter thread he posted on 12 April 2023.
Click link for Andrew's previous post about Dominic Raab, entitled 'A good day in court for the Parole Board' which was posted on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website on 20 March 2023.