A response to Worboys by PAS Joint Managing Solicitor, Deborah Russo.
We at Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) are not surprised at the outcome of the Worboys judgment, which was handed down yesterday, having been so close to the issue due to the nature of our work. We represent prisoners at Parole Board hearings on a weekly basis, and have been doing so for the last 25 years. Yet we can confidently say none of us has ever successfully represented an IPP prisoner seeking release straight from Category A conditions. Equally, in our experience panels of the Parole Board scrutinise every aspect of the lives of the prisoners we represent, which may well include the exploration of potential previous offending. So in our view the decision of the panel in Worboys not to explore the allegations of wider offending was a risky one, and one which the Court found reached the level of unreasonableness required to pass the test to quash the panel’s original decision.
One cannot blame the victims for the action they bravely took, after being failed so catastrophically by the criminal justice system. However, the potential repercussions of this judgment for the rest of the prison population, particularly the 3,000 plus prisoners lingering on IPP sentences for which there is (currently) little hope for progression to eventual release, is immense.
What then, lies next? We are worried, deeply worried, that the Secretary of State’s knee jerk reaction to this particular case will simply look at a) the publication of Parole Board decisions, and b) the introduction of a review process which will also likely include victims. In our view, if a review of any value is to take place, it must look at the Parole Board system in its entirety, and this would inevitably have to include a review of the existing test for release, especially for IPPs. It is they who are being overlooked and swept aside in all of this.
The victims in Worboys were failed by the criminal justice system as a whole. It is the police that failed to investigate their cases appropriately; it is probation that failed to adequately keep the victims informed and to notify them of his release. Although the panel in this particular case was unwise in not taking into consideration the wider evidence available in relation to potential previous offending, this should not, and cannot, result in a system becoming more risk averse out of fear of public scrutiny. In our view, for any meaningful review of the system to take place, the benefit of the successful reintegration of prisoners into society must form part of the overall picture.
PAS will probe the issue further as the charity convenes our annual Panel Discussion at Herbert Smith Freehills’ London offices at 6pm on Thursday 3 May. In view of latest developments, this timely event will examine the topic, ‘The Parole Board post Worboys: proposals for change and reform’.
Confirmed panellists for the evening include:
• Simon Creighton, Partner at Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and author of ‘Parole Board Hearings: law and practice’
• Nick Hardwick, former Chair of the Parole Board
• Dr Ruth Tully, Forensic Psychologist & Clinical Lead, Tully Forensic Psychology Ltd
• Harriet Wistrich, Birnberg Pierce Solicitor for two claimants and Director of the Centre for Women’s Justice
If you would like to reserve a place at the discussion, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.