Parole Board breaches human rights of prisoners, Court of Appeal rules

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Hundreds of prisoners may be able to challenge the fairness of their detention after the Court of Appeal ruled that the system for recommending their release was fundamentally flawed.

In two rulings yesterday, Lord Phillips, the Lord Chief Justice, said that the Parole Board system must be reformed to comply with human rights legislation.

Lord Phillips, the senior judge in England and Wales, said the present system lacked independence and that prisoners held under new indeterminate sentencing powers were being denied a chance to show they could be safely released.

If ministers fail to redress the judges' concerns, other prisoners will be able to challenge their imprisonment. In the first ruling, over Parole Board independence, Lord Phillips, sitting with Lord Justice Dyson and Lord Justice Toulson, dismissed a challenge by Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice, to a High Court decision which found the system did not comply with the human rights of prisoners.

Four prisoners argued that their right to a fair hearing was violated because of the close link between the board and the Government. Lord Phillips said the Parole Board had changed from being a body advising over the release of prisoners to that of a judicial body which can decide whether prisoners can be released.

"Both by directions and by the use of his control over the appointment of members of the board, the Secretary of State has sought to influence the manner in which the Board carries out its risk assessment."

In the second judgment, Mr Straw was appealing against a High Court ruling that he acted unlawfully in the cases of two prisoners who received an indeterminate sentence. The ruling left in place a High Court declaration that the Justice Secretary had failed to allow prisoners serving sentences for public protection (IPP) to demonstrate they were no longer a danger to the public.

The Government insisted prisoners would not be released early.