Parole Board (Amendment) Rules 2009
Extract from explanatory memorandum
7.1 The proposed changes to the Parole Board Rules 2004 as incorporated in these Rules are designed to facilitate the timely and efficient review of cases referred to the Board. The workload of the Parole Board has grown steadily over the past 7 years, with a 73% increase in oral hearings between 2002/2003 and 2006/2007. This, together with evolving changes in casework practice, has resulted in serious delays. In order to maximise its capacity to deal with the increased volume of cases and to ensure that decisions are taken within the required timescales more flexible working practices are required. The Parole Board has already introduced new administrative processes to improve case management (the “Intensive Case Management” process) and the Board’s sponsors within the Ministry of Justice are negotiating additional judicial time and both of these initiatives will assist the Board. However, the Board needs greater flexibility in allocating its resources, and in particular in determining the membership of panels, in order to hold the required number of oral hearings.
7.2 A report published in February 2008 by the National Audit Office estimated that only 32% of oral hearings were being convened on time and that the remainder were being delayed. Timely Parole Board reviews of ongoing detention are required by the European Convention on Human Rights and delays could result in prisoners being held in custody for longer than necessary.
7.3 These Rules provide the Board with greater flexibility in determining the size and membership of a panel. Under the current Rules, all panels must have three members and must be chaired by either a judicial or legally qualified member. By removing the requirement for three members the Board will have the capacity to hold more oral hearings. Furthermore, the changes enable the Board to identify the most appropriate member to chair the panel and therefore increase its capacity to convene more panels. Given that lifer cases remain particularly sensitive in the minds of the general public, Judicial members will continue to chair lifer hearings in order to maintain public confidence. However, the Parole Board will not be precluded from appointing judicial members to other panels where that is considered to be appropriate.
7.4 The removal of the need for three-member paper panels to consider cases is not without precedent. Single member panels are already undertaking initial consideration of cases.
7.5 The proposed changes are also designed to facilitate the Board’s Intensive Case Management process, which was introduced in January 2008, whereby cases are reviewed by a member of the Board immediately upon receipt of the Secretary of State’s dossier of reports. The member identifies any additional material required in time for the oral hearing and sets directions in accordance with the Rules. This early intervention is designed to enable the case to be ready for consideration by a panel within the required timescales and reduce the number of cases deferred. Currently, the Rules allow only for the panel chair to make binding directions. The amendment will give power to the intensive case management member to make directions earlier in the process.
7.6 The current Rules allow prisoners to require an oral hearing even in circumstances where neither the requirement for procedural fairness nor article 5(4) of the ECHR require one. The proposed change - specifying that a prisoner should request, rather than require, an oral hearing before the Board – remedies this by allowing the Board to determine whether an oral hearing is necessary in an individual case, which will depend on what fairness requires in that case.
7.7 The Rules previously allowed the Parole Board 7 days in which to make a decision following an oral hearing. This deadline has proved to be unrealistic given the complexity and detail in drafting reasons for decisions. A panel may well have to deal with up to nine cases at a single prison over the course of two or three days. Each decision must be carefully drafted and approved by all the members of the panel. The additional 7 days reflects the NAO’s concerns that chairs were not always consulting other panel members when drafting and issuing decision letters; the additional time will enable all panel members to be fully consulted on the draft decision. It is therefore proposed to extend the period in which the Board must issue its decisions to 14 days.
7.8 The transitional provision makes it clear that these amendments will only apply to hearings which begin on or after 1st April 2009.
The purpose of these Rules is to provide the Parole Board with greater flexibility in deploying its resources to better cope with an increasing number of cases referred to it.
These Rules are made under section 239(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and amend the Parole Board Rules 2004 (“the 2004 Rules”). The 2004 Rules set out the procedure to be adopted by the Parole Board when dealing with cases referred to it by the Secretary of State under sections 28(6)(a), 28(7) or 32(4) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 or under sections 39(4) or 44A(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.
Rule 3 amends the arrangement of rules of the 2004 Rules to reflect the change of heading of rule 13 to “Consideration by an oral panel”.
Rule 4 amends rule 2 of the 2004 Rules to add the definition of “ICM member”, remove the definition of “three member paper panel” and change the defined term “three member oral panel” to the defined term “oral panel”.
Rule 5 amends rule 3 of the 2004 Rules to remove the need for three person paper panels and to allow oral panels to be formed of one or more members instead of always being formed of three members. It also removes the requirement for all oral panels to be chaired by a legally qualified member and adds a requirement for all oral panels formed to hear the case of a prisoner serving an automatic life sentence, a mandatory life sentence, a discretionary life sentence, or a sentence during Her Majesty’s pleasure to be chaired by a sitting or retired judge.
Rule 6 amends rule 8 of the 2004 Rules to allow members of the Board who have been accredited in accordance with the Board’s intensive case management system to make directions prior to the appointment of a panel to consider the case.
Rule 7 amends a reference to a “three member oral panel” in rule 9 of the 2004 Rules to refer to an “oral panel”.
Rule 8 amends rule 10 of the 2004 Rules to remove a reference to three member paper panels and to require the Chairman to dissolve any oral panel that is unable to reach a majority decision and form a new oral panel in respect of that case.
Rule 9 amends rule 11 of the 2004 Rules to specify the two decisions a single member panel can take. A single member panel can either decide that a case should receive further consideration by an oral panel, or make a provisional decision that the prisoner is unsuitable for release.
Rule 10 amends rule 12 of the 2004 Rules so that where a single member panel has made a provisional decision that the prisoner is unsuitable for release under rule 11(2)(b) of the 2004 Rules, the prisoner can request but can no longer require an oral panel to consider his case. The prisoner must provide full reasons for such a request.
Rule 11 substitutes a new rule 13 of the 2004 Rules to remove references to the procedures in relation to three member paper panels and to require any case that is to be considered by an oral panel to be considered by such panel within 26 weeks of the case being listed.
Rule 12 amends rule 14 of the 2004 Rules to remove references to three member paper panels and to amend a reference to a “three member oral panel” to refer to an “oral panel”.
Rule 13 amends rule 20 of the 2004 Rules to increase the period of time within which the panel must notify the parties of its decision from 7 to 14 days.Rule 14 is a transitional provision that specifies that the 2004 Rules will continue to apply to all hearings which begin before 1st April 2009.