Yasmin Karabasic posted the following thread on Twitter about the House of Lords' debating a 'regret motion' by Baroness Prashar, made in relation to the Parole Board Rules...
This week the @UKHouseofLords debated a motion of regret by Baroness Prashar in respect of the Parole Board (Amendment) Rules 2022, and it was overall positive to hear a number of concerns being highlighted regarding the Statutory Instrument implemented without consultation ⬇️
In addition to the videos embedded within the incredibly useful thread by @JusticeUnions, the full Hansard transcript of the debate is here and is worth a read
The first ground of regret was regarding its introduction without consultation with anyone with experience of parole - “The manner in which these changes were introduced, with no consultation even with the Parole Board, undermines confidence in the professionals and the system.”
The second ground for regret was that “the Government have simply failed to establish that there is a problem which justifies the package of changes made. In other words, there is no evidence of the problem the changes purport to solve.”
The change “represents a major interference with the Parole Board’s ability to operate independently and undercuts the independence of a court-like body. It also undermines the professional standing of witnesses, for whom risk assessment is a core skill.”
The third regret was the change in the criteria by which prisoners may move to open prison. Baroness Prashar detailed her concerns and how “considered recommendations by the Parole Board, albeit subject to the Secretary of State’s approval, are crucial for public protection.”
Regarding the public confidence criteria “Now, only the Secretary of State considers the public confidence criteria, a task which essentially falls on officials. This has led to a dramatic reversal in the proportion of prisoners being approved for transfer to open conditions.”
Baroness Prashar highlighted that the @Parole_Board, since Worboys, has been subject to multiple reviews. The root branch review was conducted by “unamed officials” but the change introduced by this SI formed 0 part of that review, and the Parole Board was consulted, nor notified.
The @Parole_Board’s 0.5% SFO rate was highlighted. “Every time a prisoner absconds, or a person released on parole commits a serious further offense, public concern is wholly understandable, but it is important that the response to these cases is proportionate.”
In support, Lord Garnier raised “long ago, we got rid of political decision-making in the tariff-setting of life sentences for prisoners, and yet we are now introducing political input into questions which should be dealt with by the Parole Board by a single view of the SSJ.”
Continuing, Lord Garnier noted “I suppose there was a time when the Secretary of State for Justice might be expected to know something about the law, but that is no longer the case…”
Lord Carlile of Berriew commented on the SSJ’s single view procedure within paragraph 22 of the SI: “Even by statutory instrument standards, those are words of breathtaking vagueness. I suggest that this provision is a very unwise and unwelcome change for the following reasons.”
“First, it is nothing less than an unwarranted interference by Ministers with what is clearly, now at least, a judicial process. Nobody can deny that the Parole Board is a judicial process; the issue goes, therefore, to the heart of the separation of powers.”
“This seems to me to presage a political reaction to media stories in an attempt to influence the Parole Board. That can have no legitimacy.” He also shared he considers “The previous Lord Chancellor knew perfectly well that he was attacking the separation of powers.”
Lord Patten and Baroness Newlove shared their disagreement with the regret motion. Ultimately, Lord Bellamy defended the implementation of ‘single view’ procedure and experts not providing their recommendation. He stated “the change that we are talking about is quite limited.”
Along with other points, this from Lord Bellamy will be interesting for those who have read the HMPPS guidance on recommendations: “My understanding is that they are not to make recommendations. They can make their risk assessments and say whether there is a valid release plan…
…they can do all of those things. They can say this man or woman poses no risk to the public, or does pose a risk, or whatever it is, but they cannot express an opinion on the very question that the Parole Board is required to answer: whether the prisoner should be released.”
He says it is a change that brings the decision on release back to the Parole Board, not the expert, and brings the parole system in line with the CJS.
I am sure a lot of my prison law colleagues would strongly disagree that the decision on release lay with any expert on a case.
Lord Bellamy highlighted that the case of Bailey in the High Court is yet to be determined, on which he couldn’t comment. He did imply it would be kept under review, and that there was more questions to address from the Lords. Baroness Prashar requested further discussions.
Whilst not a conclusive resolution to the concerns highlighted by the Lords and shared by those working in the parole system, it does evidence the existence of ample concerns regarding the unconsulted change to the law, and that there is clear appetite for debate.
Click link to view thread on Twitter: https://twitter.com/legally_yasmin/status/1583784558369026048
Click link to view thread on Threadreader: https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1583784558369026048.html
Click link to watch the debate in the House of Lords: