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 Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 3:12 pm, 9th January 2018

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.