HC Deb 22 July 2004 vol 424 cc67-8WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins)

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced important changes in relation to the release of certain life sentence prisoners and extended sentence prisoners. In particular, the authority for determining the release of tariff-expired mandatory life sentence prisoners transferred from the Secretary of State to the Parole Board in December 2003. This followed the earlier decision by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Dennis Stafford that a court-like body should determine the release of such prisoners. As a result of these changes, the Parole Board rules 1997 have been amended, as have certain related directions to the Parole Board made under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 which have also been extended to cover all types of life sentence prisoners.

Parole Board Rules

The new Rules will address: the arrangements under which Parole Board panels are appointed to consider the cases of tariff expired life sentence prisoners and extended sentence prisoners; the procedural arrangements for panel consideration of such cases both on the papers and at oral hearings; the information and reports to be provided by the Secretary of State and the evidence to be supplied by the prisoner, and the arrangements for witnesses and observers to attend the hearing.

The rules will apply for the first time to Parole Board reviews for tariff-expired mandatory life sentence prisoners as well as to all other existing lifers to whom the previous rules applied. What this means in practice is that the new arrangements will provide for all tariff expired lifers to have their cases considered initially "on the papers", and, if not satisfied with the outcome of that paper panel decision, at a further oral hearing on request. The Government are persuaded that these new arrangements will be just as fair to all parties involved as the previous arrangements, and will have the added advantage of enabling the Board to deal with cases more efficiently and effectively.

The rules also provide for similar arrangements to apply to the review of the continued detention of recalled extended sentence prisoners.

The other major change to the rules is that they will now empower the Parole Board panels to call witnesses to oral hearings in their own right. Previously, panels have tended to rely on either party to call witnesses. This is in line with a recommendation of the comprehensive review of parole and lifer processes on which I have reported to the House previously.


Amendments have also been made to the Secretary of State's directions to the Parole Board on the release and recall of mandatory life sentence prisoners and their transfer from closed to open conditions. The amended Directions will, for the first time, apply to all lifers, not just mandatory lifers. They have been designed to reinforce the importance of risk assessment and they will set out more clearly, the factors that panels are expected to take into account in reaching decisions on a lifer's risk to the public.

The Parole Board have been extensively consulted on the content of the rules and directions and the rules have also been discussed with prisoners' legal representatives.

The new rules and directions come into force on 1 August 2004. Copies of the rules and directions have been placed in the House of Commons Library.