The head of the parole board has said that high-profile parole hearings should be held in open court.
Speaking in a recent interview with a national paper the chief executive of the Parole Board, Martin Jones, said bids for the release from jail of offenders such as the black-cab rapist John Worboys, and the killer of Helen McCourt, Ian Simms, who refused to reveal the whereabouts of her body, should be open to the public so “justice can be seen to be done”.
Mr Jones said the process could be modelled on the Canadian system, where parole cases were open to victims, the press and public. “Why not hold a hearing where you can have victims sitting in the public gallery and journalists watching that?” he said. “You may want to police who is at it but in reality it would be a court hearing to ensure justice is seen to be done.”
Part of a root-and-branch review of the system for releasing offenders announced by Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, suggested that if the proposal is implemented it would be the biggest change since the boards were set up nearly 60 years ago.
The proposal was backed by Nick Hardwick, Mr Jones’ predecessor, who resigned after it transpired some of Worboys’s victims had been left in the dark over his proposed release. Mr Jones said this particular case could have been held in public had the rules allowed, enabling the public to see his parole bid rejected. In the event, he revealed, a lawyer representing the victims had been given special dispensation to be present at the parole hearing.
The Ministry of Justice stated: “There is a strong argument that parole decision-making is a matter of public interest and should be as open and transparent as possible” but warned there could be a risk of offenders playing to the camera, embellishing evidence, upsetting victims with gruesome details about their crimes and disclosing their personal medical and psychological conditions.
Around 9,000 hearings a year are held in prisons, with victims allowed to give impact statements in person or by video. The hearings have never been open to the public but summaries of the evidence and decision are published. Mr Jones said up to 100 cases a year would be candidates for open hearings deemed of public interest. He said in other cases it could be that the offender wanted a public hearing. It has been stated that “Britain’s most violent prisoner” Charles Salvador, aka Charles Bronson, is taking legal action to have such a hearing after spending 40 years in jail.