On 22 July new Parole Board Rules came into effect.
These rules introduced a number of important changes that will seek to improve the parole system. Perhaps most importantly, these rules introduced the new reconsideration mechanism.
Under the new system a party to the case — either the prisoner or the Secretary of State — may make an application for the case to be reconsidered by the Parole Board. The bar for the application to be successful is a high one and is similar to the grounds for a judicial review. The Board’s decision, even if unpopular or controversial, must be found to be irrational, or procedurally unfair for it to be looked at again. The new procedure will apply to “classic parole cases” (indeterminate cases, and other cases where initial release is at the discretion of the Parole Board), but it will not apply to determinate recall cases.
Under the new rules there will be a tight 21-day time limit for applications. Once a reconsideration application is received, a judge will review it and respond swiftly. Where they find that the initial decision is irrational or procedurally unfair, the case will be considered afresh. It is suspected that the number of cases that may need to be re-opened will be small.
Many commentators believe that the new mechanism is unnecessary, and perhaps an over-reaction to recent difficult cases.
Victims have 21 days from the parole board decision date to challenge the decision and guidance has been issued advising them to email the Reconsideration team. If the team believes the decision should be reconsidered they will apply to the parole board within 21 days and if they do refer the case to the parole board for reconsideration the offenders release will be put on hold.
The Parole Board could decide that:
- the offender must be released as originally decided
- the offender must be released but with different licence conditions
- the offender is recommended for a transfer to open conditions
- the offender must not be released at this time
With regards a prisoner receiving a knock back from the parole board, my understanding is, bearing in mind this is very recent, that the prisoner will receive advice initially from his/her legal adviser on whether there are grounds to challenge the decision and if they are advised that there is merit in asking for a reconsideration of the decision, the solicitor will draft the letter and grounds on behalf of the inmate which will be sent directly to the parole board. Funding for this has been proposed by the Legal Aid Agency as forming part of the same fee for the hearing. There is objection and dispute regarding this and this is being challenged.
If the Legal Adviser does not advise that there are grounds or merit in asking for reconsideration then the inmate can write directly to the parole board on their own behalf.