Transparency of the Parole Board and Victim Support - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:12 pm on 9th January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General 3:12 pm, 9th January 2018

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?