Clarke accused of 'packing' the Parole Board

KENNETH CLARKE, the Home Secretary, has been accused of attempting to pack the Parole Board - which each year decides whether 24,000 prisoners should remain in jail - with government 'ciphers'.

Internal Home Office memoranda seen by the Independent on Sunday reveal that members of the board believe that Mr Clarke is threatening to 'dilute the independence' of the quasi-judicial body, which has become one of the most powerful institutions in the criminal justice system.

When challenged, the Home Office last week strongly defended its new policy, saying there was no political interference and that the public and prisoners had a right to expect consistent decision-making on when criminals should be released.

The passion on both sides is a sign that membership of the board - currently run by representatives of the 'great and the good' - has deep political resonance in the present highly charged debate about crime. Since October, the board has had the power to decide when offenders serving

between four and seven years and 'discretionary lifers' - criminals given life for crimes such as rape and grievous bodily harm - should be released. At stake is who should be in charge and, by extension, what the grounds for releasing the various offenders should be.

The row began three weeks ago when the Home Office told the 85 judges, psychiatrists, criminologists and lay members of the board, who take time off from their regular work to hear prisoners' cases every three weeks, that it wanted to appoint a small group of full-time professionals.

Under Mr Clarke's plan, membership of the board will probably be cut to about 50 and nearly every prisoner seeking parole would find one of the new group of five full-timers would be on the three- to five-member panel hearing his case.

Mr Clarke ordered the change after a Home Office management review decided that full-time board members would bring consistency to decision- making. Board members are appalled. 'We're talking about political placemen who would have their salaries paid by the Government and would find it very difficult to withstand political pressure,' said one leading member.

An internal board memorandum said that there was no evidence of inconsistencies in past rulings and demanded to know where the allegation of capriciousness had come from. If full-time members were appointed they would have to consider between 30 and 60 cases a week. The 'weight of documents' they would have to read would be on such a scale that they would inevitably be forced to reach arbitrary decisions. The pressure of work would 'soon turn them into ciphers'.

Meanwhile, the strength of the present system, that it could call on people from a wide variety of backgrounds to judge whether it was safe to release a criminal, would be lost. Judges, probation officers and other senior officials in the criminal justice system would not give up their careers to work full-time on the board. 'Professional members could be seen as

diluting the independence' of the board, the memorandum concluded.

But Home Office sources replied that, far from boosting Mr Clarke's power, the new system limited government involvement in judicial decisions and brought openness to the previously murky parole procedures.

Until last year the Parole Board was merely advisory, they said. Its members - who in any case have always been appointed by the Home Secretary - could recommend that a prisoner be released, but it was up to the Home Office to decide whether this was the right course.

Now the board was being given the power to decide when most prisoners should be released without reference to the Home Secretary, and as a result the number of Whitehall civil servants who could intervene on parole decisions was being cut from 90 to five.

Full-time board members would be 'well-qualified and independent people', probably with experience of the criminal justice system, they added, and there was no reason why high-fliers would not have a career break and take the job for a few years.

Canada has full-time officers deciding on parole without complaint from prisoners' rights and civil liberties groups, said one source. 'We're not trying to pack anything. We just want a balanced approach. At present we have 85 people spread all over the country and it is hard to develop consistent procedures.'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor