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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat 3:12 pm, 9th January 2018

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.