High Court rules that Parole Board is not sufficiently independent of Government

07.09.2007



In a landmark case, the High Court has today ruled that the Parole Board, responsible for assessing the suitability of prisoners for release, is not sufficiently independent of the Government.

Irwin Mitchells Public Law team argued that decisions on suitability for release should be made by a body that is unquestionably independent of the Government and anyone involved in the management of the prisoner.

The vast majority of cases are assessed by the Parole Board, which has a responsibility, not only to the people detained, for but also for the safety of the public.

In September 2006 the present Chairman, Sir Duncan Nichols said that the issue does arise as to whether, in perception at least; we are judicially independent given the following points. The Home Secretary is a party to our proceedings and National Offender Management Service exercises significant sponsorship influence at the same time as managing the offenders we review.

The High Court's judgement agreed that the control the Government currently has over the Parole Board in terms of appointment, management and funding was unlawful.

Issues raised during the case included:

  • The Governments refusal to fund interviews with the prisoner conducted by the Parole Board as part of the risk assessment procedure
  • The making of rules by the government as to the manner in which the Parole Board conducted reviews
  • The decision by former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, to alter the composition of the Parole Board membership which was described as designed to alter, to some extent at least, the outcome of cases before the board

Lawyer John Dickinson, from law firm Irwin Mitchell, who successfully challenged the role of the parole board commented: This issue of the Parole Board not being sufficiently independent of the Government was emphasised by its description in a Home Office review as being an instrument of government policy.

The Court found that the influence and control that the Secretary of State has over the Board fatally undermines its required perception of independence.