Parole board of England and Wales
not fit for purpose, says its former chair
"My concern is what is not said in the review of the Parole Board of England and Wales which was published 28 April, 2018," Nick Hardwick told an audience last night at the University of Leeds. The review was ordered by David Gauke, Secretary of State for Justice, following the public outcry surrounding parole board decision-making in the case of the convicted sex offender John Worboys.
Professor Hardwick was giving the Frank Dawtry Memorial lecture*. Former guest lecturers have included Jack Straw.
Hardwick resigned from the Parole Board in March this year in the wake of the John Worboys controversy. Though chair of the Board at the time of the unpopular decision, and willing to take responsibility, Professor Hardwick was not himself on the panel which made the controversial recommendation.
Hardwick, like the Secretary of State, thinks there should be greater transparency in Parole Board decision-making. He said the victims in the Worboys case had behaved with courage, determination and grace. Yet Hardwick did not shy away from the reality that the Parole Board's role is not to sentence, and not to sentence for untried crimes. Decisions should not be shirked because they are unpopular or do not suit the Secretary of State for Justice, he said.
Likening some Parole Board hearings to being in a Committee, where the "committee" does not always get to the truth, Hardwick called for a more adversarial process. In Q and A afterwards one parole board member raised a cautionary note in this regard, saying that a less confrontational situation can sometimes elicit best evidence from a witness.
Hardwick told his audience that the Parole Board System of England and Wales clearly needs modernising. He thinks the reform proposals published on 28 April do not go far enough. Though clearly aware of prisoners' rights and that some victims are themselves offenders, and that there are legitmate grounds for privacy in some matters, such as medical, Hardwick's view was the system should be much more open.
In what would be a bold departure from the historic role of Parole Boards Hardwick told his audience that Board members should have the same independence and security of tenure as that of a judge or a magistrate, and with powers to enforce the attendance of witnesses.
During the same lecture Hardwick, who is also a former chief inspector of prisons (HMIP), slammed the state of prisons in England and Wales. He blamed failure to accomplish prison reform on the low status in the ministerial pecking order which the minister for Justice has.
Citing recidivist figures just short of 50 percent, and showing a photograph of bunk beds for two men in what he called a toilet, Hardwick said prison reform in England was a political and policy failing. "The picture (he showed of two bunk beds in little more than a closet with a toilet) doesn't give a sense of the stink from a toilet where two grown men defecate and urinate all day," said Hardwick, adding that there might be merit in the Prison Governors' Association call for a public inquiry.
Hardwick's message was twofold: transformational change is needed of the parole board system of England and Wales, and a mechanism resilient to political change needs to be in place if prison reform is to be effective. Helen Gavaghan, 10 May, 2018.
The above appears also in the "British Courts and Justice" section of Science, People & Politics. Iss. 2 2018.
FURTHER READING URLS ACCESSED 10-05-2018
Professor Nick Hardwick, School of Law, Royal Holloway, University of London.
*Frank Dawtry: Background to the annual lecture.
1. Between: THE QUEEN on the application of (1) DSD and NBV (2) MAYOR OF LONDON (3) NEWS GROUP NEWSPAPERS LTD
Claimants or Interested Parties
(1) THE PAROLE BOARD OF ENGLAND AND WALES
(2) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR JUSTICE
JOHN RADFORD (formerly known as JOHN WORBOYS) (Interested Party)
2. Safety in Custody Figures, published 26 April, 2018. Quarter to the end of December, 2017.
3. 28 April, 2018. Review of the law, policy and procedures relating to parole board decisions.