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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice on the Parole Board’s decision to release John Worboys and the Government’s response to the issues raised by this case. The Statement is as follows:
“I should like to start by echoing the Statement made by my predecessor at the weekend and to express my unreserved sympathy to all the victims. They will never erase the emotional trauma of his crimes and the Parole Board’s decision to order his release must have brought back painful memories. These were horrific crimes, and I take the concerns raised, including by many colleagues in the House, very seriously.
John Worboys was convicted of 19 offences in 2009, and received an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection with a minimum tariff of eight years in custody. Following the expiry of the tariff, he was eligible for review by the Parole Board, which was required to consider whether to release him.
The board reviewed his case at a hearing on
There are two main areas of concern that I think it essential to address today: whether the correct procedures were followed in this case; and whether those procedures are right or whether improvements are needed.
Turning first to whether procedures were followed in this case, all victims of the crimes for which he was convicted have a statutory right to receive information about parole hearings and decisions under the victim contact scheme. On the basis of the information I have received since arriving in the department yesterday, it appears that in relation to these victims, those who opted to remain in contact via the VCS were informed of the parole hearing by their preferred method of contact. Of the victims currently in contact with the scheme, those who chose to be informed of the Parole Board decision by phone or email were contacted immediately on
Letters were sent immediately to those who chose to be informed that way, but of course these took longer to arrive. Some victims entitled to this contact chose not to opt in, which is of course their right. Any victims the crimes against whom were not prosecuted do not fall within the statutory remit of the victim contact scheme, so the arrangements are different. Discretionary contact can be considered, but in this instance the National Probation Service has no record of any requests for discretionary contact. However, while it appears that the correct procedures were followed, the fact that some victims learned of the decision from the media suggests that there is scope to review these procedures and examine whether lessons can be learned and improvements can be made. It is a priority for this Government that victims of rape and sexual assault have full confidence in the criminal justice system. Sentence lengths for these horrific crimes have increased by more than 30% since 2010 and more victims are coming forward, but there is still more to do.
I should be absolutely clear that I think the Parole Board should remain an independent body, responsible for making decisions about the ongoing risk that individuals pose after serving their tariff. But I agree with my predecessor’s assessment that there is a strong case for reviewing transparency in the process of parole decisions and how victims are appropriately engaged in that process, and for considering changes in policy, practice or the Parole Board Rules or other guidance or procedures, including the victims’ code. With that in mind, I can confirm that I have instructed my officials to establish a review to examine these questions and I will share more information on this shortly. I think it appropriate that the department leads this work but that it consults victims’ groups and others. I have spoken to the Victims’ Commissioner, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and the chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, to discuss what changes we could make and how best to draw on their expertise and insight in this review.
Finally, I note that the Justice Select Committee has announced an evidence session. My department stands ready to provide the committee with any information it may require. I intend to prioritise this review so that decisions can be taken before Easter. I hope that this course of action reassures the House of the importance and priority I attach to this. As such, I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement and for giving me advance sight of it. Our criminal justice system must of course have the interests of victims of crime at its heart. It is all too clear that victims of the vile crimes committed by John Worboys feel that the process has failed them. Such failings risk undermining public trust in our wider justice system and the rule of law. Many women, both victims and others more widely, will understandably be anxious about Mr Worboys’ release. The current legal restrictions on the Parole Board mean that we do not know why and how the decision was taken. So while I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, do we really need to debate whether there is a case for greater transparency? Surely, the Worboys case has underlined that there is, and the chair of the Parole Board has already called for it. So does the new Secretary of State for Justice intend that this review should be about how to achieve greater transparency and not whether it is needed?
The failures go much wider than the rules governing the Parole Board. In fact, the whole matter has been dogged by failures in the system from the outset. In 2009 John Worboys was convicted of 19 offences against 12 women, but it has been suggested that the police have linked Worboys to around 100 other cases. The public are asking questions about the failings in the police handling of the case; about why there were no further prosecutions; and about failures of the victim contact scheme properly to notify victims of the parole hearing. The Worboys case raises so many serious questions that anything less than an independent, end-to-end review of the handling of the case, from the first reporting of an attack to the police right through to the Parole Board hearing, would let down victims and the wider public.
The previous Secretary of State did not take up the Opposition’s request to undertake such an inquiry, but the new Secretary of State can bring a fresh perspective. He also has an opportunity to reassure the victims and wider public by going further than his predecessor and agreeing to the kind of independent, end-to-end review that I have described. That would be the right thing to do and if the new Secretary of State does so, I will be the first to congratulate him. Will the Minister agree to at least take that suggestion back today?
There is also a question about whether wider problems in the justice system—a sector that has been subject to the greatest level of cuts to any department—may have impinged on this specific case. The failure to allow women victims the opportunity to participate in the parole hearing through written and oral statements, or properly to notify them of the hearing, was a significant breach of their rights. The National Probation Service manages the victim contact scheme; your Lordships’ House is all too familiar with the deep problems caused to probation by the chaotic reforms undertaken by the Government. Does the Minister believe those changes to the probation service have left the victim contact scheme more effective or less effective? Will he spell out today what the Government are doing to ensure that this scheme is functioning as it should and that we see no repeat of the failings witnessed last week? At the very least, will he consider amending the scheme so that victims opt out rather than opt in to the contact system?
Likewise, what is the Government’s assessment of the effectiveness of the current sex offender treatment programmes in prison? Last year, the ministry found that its core programme actually increased reoffending among sex offenders. Does the Minister know whether Worboys was on one of those core programmes that was subsequently withdrawn? Will the Minister take the opportunity to clarify the current procedure for prioritising which IPP cases are dealt with most pressingly? Are those on the shortest tariffs dealt with first?
Finally, I am glad that the Government are now focusing on victims’ rights but in 2014, the High Court found that the Metropolitan Police had breached the rights of the victims of Worboys under the Human Rights Act by failing properly to investigate many of the crimes he was linked to. This decision was later upheld by the Court of Appeal. So I think many of your Lordships will be surprised and disappointed that the Government, through the current Home Secretary and her predecessor, then backed taking Worboys’ victims to the Supreme Court last year. Will the Minister take this opportunity to express regret for treating those victims in this way?
My Lords, I too express great gratitude from these Benches for the Statement from the Government today, which gives an absolute expression of sympathy for those who have been affected by this case. Because there has been an obvious breakdown in the structure and systems of criminal justice which we are talking about, I wonder whether an apology on behalf of the Government would have been more appropriate at this point.
The Statement we have just heard raises a significant number of issues, many of which link back to legislative processes and rules which have developed over recent decades. Therefore, an understanding of the scope of the review will be necessary to give confidence to the many people who are feeling pain, misery and disgust at what they have seen in recent days. If we are to assuage them and to bring appropriate satisfaction to much of our society, we need to look carefully at the scope of this review.
As the Statement itself expresses it, we are told that the review will answer issues in these two areas: first, transparency in the process for parole decisions and, secondly, how victims are appropriately engaged in that process. This is indeed a focus of public concern at present but behind it lies a set of deeper and wider issues which have been thrown up by this case. We need to ensure that we see a review that touches all these issues if we are to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion to a much deeper issue than that reflected in the Statement. An example which has been thrown up by this case is indeterminate sentences. Nine hundred people were expected to get indeterminate sentences, but by 2012, when they were abolished, 6,000 people had received such sentences. Will the Minister tell us whether there is pressure on the parole system to clear this backlog which has affected the way in which it has dealt with these cases? We need some reassurance on that, not just those of us in this Chamber but the public as well.
Public confidence in the justice system has already been alluded to, particularly in the CPS and the role it played in reducing the number of cases brought to prosecution. It is essential that the public know why that was the case and the impact it has had on the victims and alleged victims who have been so hurt in recent days.
Another area where the concerns of the public need to be assuaged is about the role of the Government and, particularly, of the Home Secretary at the time—she is currently Prime Minister—where two of the victims alleged that their cases were not taken seriously by the criminal system.
The two fundamental issues behind the Statement today are transparency and engagement with victims. The chair of the Parole Board has said that he has lots of plans for more transparency. We need to understand whether he made those views known to the Government and whether the Government took any notice of him in ensuring that openness and transparency occurred. Will the Minister tell us whether the chair of the Parole Board made those points to the Government and what the Government’s response to him was? That is fundamental to the understanding that victims will have.
The second fundamental issue is engagement with victims, which was mentioned in the Statement. We now know that as many as 100 victims did not have their cases taken to court, yet their names are known to the justice system. Will the review deal with those victims as well? This is fundamental. If the names of people who have come forward as being the most hurt—the people who turn to you and say, “I heard this on the television” or “I was asked by a reporter”—are known to reporters, are in the public domain and are well known, why has the penal justice system not brought these matters to their attention? It is clearly laid out in the Statement that at present that is not within the current rules and processes, so some quite significant change is needed to ensure that engagement with victims is properly executed.
The Government say that they are going to bring forward more information shortly. “Shortly” is frequently used in your Lordships’ House and it can mean anything: the next season, the next year, the next Government or whatever. It would be really helpful to know whether we are going to deal with this matter urgently. I know that the Government have said that they intend to bring this matter to a conclusion by March. That is the narrow review which I suspect is what is behind the two issues raised in the Statement, but we need to know a lot more about the processes. We need to understand what victims have gone through. We need to understand what the relationship between the criminal justice system and victims will be.
Fundamentally, there is difference of view as well on the role that the criminal justice system plays. The first stated aim of the criminal justice system is to increase public confidence in it—that appears in this Statement—yet the first aim of the Parole Board is to increase public confidence in its work as an independent body. Somehow or other there is a misconnection there between the one and the other, because having confidence in an independent body and having confidence in the criminal justice system, which is a responsibility of government, in some way do not actually fulfil the needs which this case has thrown up.
I share the anguish of many in this country in relation to the system which this case has thrown up. I share the anguish of many victims who have felt let down by the criminal justice system. I welcome the Statement in so far as it lays out the immediate action to be taken, but I suggest to the Minister that there is a much bigger case lying behind it for examining the whole structure of what happens in these matters.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord German, for their contributions on this issue. It is clearly a matter of deep concern not only to the Government but to the public at large that these issues should have arisen in the way they did. I will seek to address some of the points that have been raised.
I am of course aware that there were a number of allegations directed against Worboys that were not the subject of prosecution. That matter of course falls with the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which has to apply its evidential test to the question of whether or not to proceed with a prosecution. The question remains whether there still could be a consideration of those cases that were not the subject of prosecution and which were not taken into account by any admission from Worboys himself. Therefore there is scope for other cases to be the subject of consideration by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in due course.
As regards the question of how certain claims were dealt with, claims by two victims were of course taken to court, as alluded to by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord German. Those cases were taken against the Metropolitan Police, and by the Court of Appeal stage damages had been awarded and upheld. The Home Secretary was not engaged in that litigation process at that time. The damages that have been awarded will not be clawed back in any sense—those awards of damages will stand.
However, the decision of the Court of Appeal raised a point of law, and it is because of that point of law that the Home Office became engaged in the appeal process. The matter being taken to the Supreme Court concerns an interpretation of a legal issue and that alone—it is not addressing the merits or otherwise of the awards of damages that were made in those cases. I wish to make that clear. The Home Secretary was concerned that an important point of law should be addressed by the Supreme Court, and I am not going to comment further on that because it is an ongoing litigation.
As regards the observations that were made about the victim contact scheme, that will of course be the subject of the review which is to be undertaken. The Secretary of State is determined that the review should be undertaken as soon as possible, which is why I referred to Easter. At present, there is a process whereby victims can be informed of a parole hearing by their own preferred method of contact, but they are not obliged to accept that there should be such contact. The noble Baroness raised the question of whether there should be an opt-in or an opt-out, and that is a question that may properly be addressed in the context of an ongoing review.
Victims of crimes that were not prosecuted do not fall within the present statutory remit of the victim contact scheme, but there is a discretionary contact process which can be considered by the National Probation Service. In this instance, there is no record of any request for discretionary contact, but again the question of discretionary contact is one that may properly be addressed in the context of the review that is to be undertaken. The resources of the probation service are important in two respects. First, the National Probation Service prepares and submits a risk management plan to the Parole Board for the purposes of the board setting licence conditions if there is to be a release of an IPP prisoner. We have to remember that an IPP prisoner is being released under licence for life, albeit they may have the option to apply after 10 years for the removal of that licence, and they are subject to strict conditions which, if breached, may result in them being returned to prison. Again, it is not open to me to go into the detail of the particular licence conditions because the circumstances of the Parole Board’s decision are not something that it is open to me to comment upon; indeed, I am not aware of them. The Parole Board acts in an independent fashion.
The difficulty that has been underlined by this case is that under present legislative provision the decision-making process of the Parole Board cannot be disclosed. I am not aware at present of any prior requests for a change in that legislative provision but, as the noble Lord, Lord German, observed, the chairman of the Parole Board had come forward to say that perhaps the time had come to address that issue. That will of course be the subject of the review that is going to be undertaken. I appreciate the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord German, about the need for us to consider carefully the scope of that review and its terms. That is why the Secretary of State, having only just come in to office, is going to take a reasonable opportunity to address the process of the review that is to be undertaken in order that we can address that point. If it is necessary and appropriate to change the legislative provisions with regard to the transparency of the Parole Board, that can be done by way of secondary legislation so it would not be held up by the need to contemplate primary legislation in this context.
I hope I have addressed the majority of the concerns raised by noble Lords. In light of the time constraints, I will rest my present submission there.
My Lords, when I was a junior Minister at the Home Office I had to deal with the release of patients from special hospitals and of life prisoners on tariffs. Does my noble and learned friend agree that risk can never be wholly excluded, and that the question the Parole Board has to determine is whether, given proper and appropriate safeguarding provisions, the risk is an acceptable one? Does he also agree that while the principle of transparency is an important one, prisoners have a right to a degree of privacy? There will be many issues—relating, for example, to their mental or physical health—that cannot be properly put into the public domain.
I acknowledge the observations made by my noble friend, and they are well founded. The test applied to release by the Parole Board in the case of an IPP prisoner is particularly high and has to be overcome by the prisoner himself addressing the onus. The onus rests on the prisoner to satisfy the Parole Board. However, I entirely accept that we can never exclude risk in this context. These are individuals who have been responsible for violent, and very often violent and sexual, crimes. They do pose a risk. It is a question of determining whether their incarceration should be indefinite or whether society has reached a point where it can decide that the risk is so diminished that they can be safely allowed back out into the community. We in this country do not believe in indefinite imprisonment, nor have we ever done so.
On the question of transparency, I acknowledge that the individual prisoner will have certain basic human rights that have to be respected, but it is necessary for us to take a proportionate approach to that issue, remembering that there are also victims here, not just the perpetrator.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister will recognise that the House welcomes the review that is to be undertaken. However, would he agree that the review outlined by the Statement is rather narrow? One of the concerns that many of us—certainly the victims—will have is the quality of supervision that will be available on release. It is true, as the Minister has indicated, that the Parole Board will have had a plan based on assessment of risk. However, it is one thing to have a plan but quite another to ensure that it is operated effectively and reliably. Reports that we have had from the inspectorate about the level of supervision provided in some of these cases sometimes not going beyond an occasional telephone call do not give us much cause for comfort. I would be grateful if the Minister could assure the House that the review will look at the capacity of the National Probation Service to provide comfort and assurance to victims and to the wider community.
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I am not going to close down the terms of a review that are yet to be determined. That will be looked at, it will come into the public domain and it will be open to your Lordships to consider whether to press for a wider review. It would not be appropriate for me at this stage to seek to set down the parameters of the review process.
As regards the level of care and supervision, an individual such as Worboys will be subject to a multiagency public protection arrangement supervised by the National Probation Service. I am conscious of the recent criticism made of the probation service, but in the context in which it was mentioned it was not directed at the National Probation Service, which deals with the most serious offenders in the circumstances.
My Lords, in 2016 the Public Accounts Committee reported:
“The criminal justice system is not good enough at supporting victims and witnesses”.
Your Lordships’ House voted on
My Lords, the matter of a victims’ strategy is very much at the forefront of our minds. Indeed, I believe that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State observed in the other place that it is in his present inbox. He has only just come into office, but I understand that he intends to address that very strategy.
This weekend has been quite emotional. I have done a lot of media, speaking for victims, and this case has raised a lot of issues from a lot of agencies that victims do not get support. First and foremost, they do not have any legal rights. However, I welcome the Government’s commitment to the review on the transparency of the Parole Board. I have had meetings with Nick Hardwick, and that is something that we have been discussing. I have asked for transparency, so that, as in appeal courts, we get a judgment set down that people can see. That is an area that we can look at and which I shall push forward with my team.
In addition, I ask my noble and learned friend to agree that the victims’ contact scheme must be radically reformed, not just with guidance and persuasion. That raises another important issue mentioned in the Secretary of State’s Statement, where he says that,
“the National Probation Service has no record of any requests for discretionary contact”.
That gives me a red alert. Victims are constantly let down by not getting the right communication, so it does not give me any comfort to say that nobody even thought of these individuals as human beings. I ask my noble and learned friend to look at the victims’ contact scheme in a radical way, because there are victims in whose cases there was no conviction.
Is this about changing the law to ensure that we can stand up on stilts, or will it be about treating people with human decency and dignity? At the end of the day, for someone such as me, who found out that the media knew about a judgment in my husband’s case before my family and I did, I can tell your Lordships that that that leaves scars for ever. I want to ensure that all the victims, in this case especially, get that discretionary informing of the full facts so that they can get on with their lives and feel safe and secure, because only that gives us public protection standing up in bold letters for everybody in our community.
I note what the noble Baroness has said, and I quite understand the basis on which she expresses these views. As I have already said, there is a question about the discretionary contact where a case has not actually been prosecuted. Clearly, we must have that in mind when we take the question of the VCS forward. As I observed earlier, it would not be appropriate for me at this stage to set out the parameters of a review that is under contemplation at present.
When cases show a pattern of serial and prolific offending, ought it not to be considered by the prosecution service that how many cases to prosecute should not be unduly restrained by either CPS resources or court resources, because of the effect that may have on the sentencing?
I do not understand that they are ever determined by reference to court resources at all. The CPS has to make an independent judgment on these matters. It applies its evidential tests to the complaints that are brought before it by the police, to determine whether or not the prosecution should appropriately be taken forward. One has to acknowledge that there are cases when victims come forward, and yet, because of the particular circumstances, it is not possible for the CPS to determine that the evidential test has been met.
My Lords, I ask the Minister to take away from this short discussion the view of the House that the terms of reference for this inquiry need to be pretty wide. In 1985 I wrote a book called Investigating Rape: A New Approach for Police. Since then, more than 30 years have passed, and we have seen in these last few months really difficult rape cases failing in the courts. It seems to me that the Worboys case is a perfect example from which we could learn in a wider sense how to both support victims and provide the accused with a proper defence. At the moment, the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences is in a mess.
I hear what the noble Lord is saying, but if we are to make progress—and swiftly, which is what we are required to do in these circumstances —we have to ensure that the review process is focused on the matters immediately at issue. To broaden it in the way suggested would, I fear, take us into the swamp lands and result in no meaningful change in the foreseeable future, particularly on the issue of transparency. While I understand and hear the desire for as wide a review as possible, let us bear in mind the need to ensure a review process that leads to legislative change within a realistic and—for victims—an acceptable timeframe.
I am obliged to the noble Lord, but I am not sure that that could address the sorts of issues that have arisen here as a result of the present process. We are looking at the situation of Worboys 10 years after his initial incarceration and the circumstances in which he has sought to persuade the Parole Board that he can be released, without danger to the public and against the background of a risk management plan submitted to the Parole Board by the National Probation Service itself. I do not believe that that could be brought forward.
Would my noble and learned friend agree with me that this is a very welcome review, but the very serious implications of this particular case should not impede progress on looking at the whole problem of indeterminate sentences for crimes committed by people which were entirely different? That has often been raised in your Lordships’ House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, and many of us have given him strong support. Can my noble and learned friend give that reassurance?
I welcome my noble friend’s observation and seek to give that reassurance. The wider question of IPP sentences and how they are dealt with has to be addressed in all its spheres, and it would not be appropriate to allow one most unfortunate case to distract us from wider questions with regard to IPP sentences and their final disposal.
My Lords, that brings us back to the question that the noble Lord, Lord German, asked, to which the Minister was not able to give an answer because of time. Has there been any pressure on the Parole Board to deal more speedily with the backlog of IPP cases? I think that we need to know. I understood that the principle of IPP sentences was to protect the public. Clearly, the view of many victims is that in this instance the public are not being protected. We need to know—and I would be grateful for the Minister’s answer—what pressure has been applied on the Parole Board to deal with that backlog.
While I am on my feet, could we pick up the point that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, raised, which was the very interesting question that in the past Ministers took personal responsibility for some of these difficult cases? Is not there a value in what I believe is by and large sound political judgment being made by people, perhaps with a background of elective politics, looking at these cases and assessing whether in the mind of the wider public this is something that should be looked at, and that it is perhaps not in the public interest for such people to be released?
With respect, I can perhaps answer both questions by reference to the same issue. As far as I am aware, no pressure is being brought to bear on the Parole Board with respect to inappropriate release of IPP prisoners. The statutory test is perfectly clear, and the Parole Board is an independent body applying that statutory test, which should continue to be the position. It would not be appropriate that we should depart from the situation in which there is an independent Parole Board making these decisions objectively, to somehow bring it back into the fold of political decision-making where you may find pressure from the electorate, the media and elsewhere that impacts directly on someone’s right of liberty.
I am obliged to the noble Lord, but I have to confess that I have virtually no experience of criminal law north of the border.
My Lords, John Worboys carried out violent sexual crimes against very many women—we will probably never know how many—and it has called into question whether women victims of domestic violence are getting justice. It has caused great unrest, not least to the victims, but the wider public have raised great concerns about this. A panel of three has been convinced by John Worboys that he is safe to be released but, at the same time and in contrast to that, the Parole Board has said that his release conditions will be rigorously monitored and enforced. If they need to be rigorously enforced, and the Parole Board is worried about that, is he really safe to be released? This is a fundamental question—whether he is that safe to be released and to be a free man who has put his life of crime behind him, when the risk assessment is that he needs to be very closely monitored by the probation services and other multi-agencies. The public rightly need some reassurance that he is either safe to be released or is not.
He has, of course, to satisfy the Parole Board that, from the perspective of public safety, he can be released. However, he is released under licence so that monitoring can be maintained. For example, an individual may have been prompted to carry out the most violent, vicious crimes when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Therefore, the licensing conditions may ensure that they do not revert to a life of drug dependency or alcoholism. Where there are indications that they have done so, it may be necessary to revoke the licence as they then present a danger that they would not otherwise have been seen to present when they were first released. This is an issue of proportionality and balance. To impose an absolute upon an individual in these circumstances would, I fear, impose upon him a lifetime of incarceration, in which case we would lose that balance altogether.
I do not understand that any concern was expressed by the chairman of the Parole Board about resources or the standard of review that the board carried out before making this decision. The issue is whether or not it can disclose the reasoning behind its decision. As the law stands, it cannot do that, so the issue is one of transparency more than anything else. I reassure the right reverend Prelate that that is the position as I understand it.
My Lords, are not the Government making a bit of a meal of this? Is it not clear beyond argument that the decision of the Parole Board to release Worboys cannot command the confidence of the public, and certainly not that of the victims, without the Parole Board being able to tell the public why it has taken that decision? Do we really need a review to establish that?
With respect to the noble Lord, few issues are ever clear beyond argument, as he knows from his experience in the courts. In this instance, it is appropriate that we should review the matter before we take further steps.