Transparency of the Parole Board and Victim Support - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 9th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 3:06 pm, 9th January 2018

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 8 November 2017, by which time he had served 10 years in custody, including a period on remand. A three-person panel considered a detailed dossier of evidence. Its subsequent decision to release him was communicated to my department on 3 January.

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 3 January, although the Secretary of State has recently learned that one did not receive the email.

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”.