John Worboys: Parole Board changes to be made after row over black cab rapist, government announces

Justice secretary says new mechanism will be introduced to give victims the right to challenge decisions

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Saturday 28 April 2018 00:24 BST
Former Parole Board chairman Nick Hardwick says David Gauke should accept responsibility for John Worboys case

The government has laid out a series of changes to how the Parole Board operates following widespread anger over the organisation’s handling of the John Worboys case.

David Gauke, the justice secretary, said a new mechanism will be introduced to give victims the right to challenge parole decisions.

Ministers will also scrap rules that prevent the board revealing the basis for its decisions, and instead force it to disclose its reasoning.

The changes follow public anger at the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys, the so-called “black cab rapist”, after 10 years of an indeterminate sentence for attacks on 12 women.

The decision was later overturned following a judicial review, forcing the chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, to resign. Judges ruled that the board had not taken into account other crimes that Worboys is believed to have committed but not been prosecuted for. It also failed to inform his victims of the decision to release him.

Last month, Mr Gauke told MPs the case had highlighted “very significant problems” in Parole Board processes.

The justice secretary has now announced a series of proposed changes, which will be the subject of a consultation.

Under the proposals, victims will, for the first time, be able to appeal against Parole Board decisions, most likely via judge-led hearings. In an attempt to increase transparency around judicial decisions, these are likely to be opened up to the media and the public, ministers said.

Under the current rules, victims' only option for appealing against a parole decision is to launch a judicial review.

Mr Gauke said he will also scrap the so-called “blanket ban” that currently prevents the board from disclosing the reasoning behind its decisions.

Instead, it will be required to explain the basis for its ruling to victims, journalists and any member of the public that requests it. The government said this is likely to include a summary of the arguments it heard, the recommendations of experts and details of other factors behind its decision.

At the same time, the Victim Contact Service will be strengthened. It will be extended to cover victims of crimes not currently included in the scheme, such as people seriously injured in traffic accidents. Staff will also be given additional training.

The initial changes follow an urgent review into the Parole Board’s processes. A wider review into every current Parole Board rule is also underway, and will conclude later this year.

Justice Secretary David Guake on Worboys case: ‘I have accepted Nick Hardwick’s resignation’

Announcing the changes, Mr Gauke said: “Today I am announcing a package of measures to reform the Parole Board and introduce transparency of its decisions. But we are going further and consulting on a new way to challenge Parole Board decisions that would be judge-led and could, in some circumstances, be open to the public. And we’re not stopping there.

“Today I also produce the terms of reference for our comprehensive review of the entire Parole Board, including whether we should in some circumstances name panel members, whether we should define the panel composition and what kinds of further scrutiny measures should be introduced.

He added: “We will also improve the process for victims, who in this case were clearly let down. It is my ambition that the outcome of this process will mean victims have more confidence in the system.

“We have moved at pace to address the shortcomings of the parole system which the Worboys case has brought to light. But we must take a balanced approach. I am determined to lead a thorough reform process, the first action of which we launched today.”

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