We previously wrote about a significant change made by the Parole Board. As of 1st November 2016, the Parole Board Rules 2016 came into force. These rules empowered the Parole Board to release prisoners serving a sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection on the papers.
As a firm, we have secured the release of an IPP prisoner on the papers. Our client had spent a significant period in the community before being recalled after being charged with an offence of common assault. He was convicted of the common assault and recalled to custody. We managed to secure his release without the need for an Oral Hearing.
This rule change has the potential to allow those IPP prisoners who remain in custody the ability to obtain their release without having to endure the lengthy delays currently being experienced in obtaining an Oral Hearing. Given the number of hearings being conducted by the Parole Board, prisoners are waiting several months for their hearing to be listed.
What about Open Conditions?
Following the above rule change, the Parole Board Management committee have agreed two further policy changes to assist IPP prisoners to progress through the prison system. One of those changes is the ability to recommend a transfer to open conditions for those serving an IPP sentence on the papers without the need for an Oral Hearing.
What does this mean for IPP Prisoners?
Previously the power available to the Parole Board in relation to Open Conditions was limited. Whilst under the Board’s previous policy such prisoners could be recommended for open conditions at Member Case Assessment (MCA), such recommendations would only take place in exceptional circumstances and would require the approval of the Parole Board Chair. In the vast majority of cases any application for Open Conditions would be determined following oral evidence at an Oral Hearing.
The Parole Board, as they did with the ability to grant release on the papers, continue to offer IPP prisoners a route to progression which aims to limit the possibility for delay. The ability to progress prisoners to open conditions on the papers will further reduce the number of cases being heard by the Parole Board at Oral Hearings speeding up the process for everyone subject to Parole.
As a result, if the Panel considering your case at the MCA stage feel that your risk is manageable in less stringent conditions, they can make a recommendation for open conditions. You must remember that the Board can only provide a recommendation which the Secretary of State will need to ratify. Should this be done then you will ultimately be transferred to open conditions without the need to wait a lengthy period for an Oral Hearing.
Will I always get a hearing?
In addition to the above change, the Parole Board will no longer automatically send IPP recall cases to an Oral Hearing. Previously all IPP prisoners subject to recall would automatically be granted an Oral Hearing, no matter the circumstances. The only circumstances in which a hearing would not be granted would be where the prisoner specifically opted out of the Parole process.
Panel members will now have the ability to decide whether it is necessary to have an Oral Hearing or whether a negative decision should be made on the papers. A negative decision at the paper stage will result in the review concluding at which point the Secretary of State will then consider the issues in the case before setting the next review. The length of the next review will be dependent on the circumstances of the case and what needs to be achieved to reduce risk prior to the next review.
This change is an important one. Prisoners without support for a progressive move from their Offender Manager or Offender Supervisor will need to ensure that representations are submitted should they seek a progressive move. Without a positive application by the prisoner there is now the possibility that the Board will issue a negative decision on the papers. We often deal with cases where prisoners have no support from the professionals in their case but because of oral arguments at the hearing, the Board issue a positive decision. Obtaining of an Oral Hearing is now even more important than it was before for those IPP prisoners subject to recall.
Do these rule changes apply to Lifers?
Unfortunately, these changes only apply to IPP prisoners. There is no provision for a progressive move on the papers for Life sentence prisoners; the Parole Board have no power to direct release or to recommend open conditions without oral evidence being taken. In addition, such prisoners remain entitled to an Oral Hearing unless they specifically request to not have one. As a result, life sentence prisoners subject to recall will automatically be granted an Oral Hearing for the Board to consider their case.
” A prisoner could wait several months to appear before the Board to give evidence only to have their application for release refused “
Should I seek Open Conditions on the Papers?
Given the nature of the change, it is highly likely that the Parole Board will only recommend progressive moves to prisoners who have the support of their Offender Manager and Offender Supervisor. Prisoners may find themselves in a situation where they seek release into the community but the professionals in the case feel that Open Conditions are more appropriate. In these circumstances, careful consideration should be given to the application being made to the Board.
A prisoner could wait several months to appear before the Board to give evidence only to have their application for release refused. The Board at the hearing could recommend open conditions which was potentially something they would have done back at MCA stage given the support of the professionals. In these circumstances a prisoner would have lost out on a significant period waiting for the hearing to take place which could have been spent progressing in open conditions, had they have originally made an application for open conditions on the papers. Expert advice should be taken before making your application before the Board, taking into account the prospects of your application being successful and the practicalities of securing an Oral Hearing.
What can we do to help you?
We would encourage all IPP prisoners approaching the commencement of their reviews to contact us. Once we have taken your instructions we can draft and submit representations on your behalf to ensure your application has the best chance of success. We can consider your options and ensure you understand the impacts of these new changes; ensuring that any delays in obtaining a decision are kept to a minimum.
Any changes for determinate sentence recalls?
There have also been changes to the way in which the Parole Board deal with the recall of determinate sentence prisoners. The Parole Board recently ran a pilot which meant that prisoners subject to recall with less than 24 weeks remaining on their sentence would not be granted an Oral Hearing. Again, this was an attempt at reducing the number of hearings faced by the Board. This change has now been put on hold and as a result the current guidance for the Board is that cases where the prisoner has less than 12 weeks remaining on licence following recall will not be given an Oral Hearing.
This is not a blanket ban and should a prisoner have less than 12 weeks remaining on licence, arguments can still be made that an Oral Hearing be granted. The prisoner will need to show exceptional circumstances when seeking an Oral Hearing. Assistance from a specialist prison law lawyer can assist in making sure that such cases are considered carefully by the Parole Board.
Should you require any assistance with a Prison Law issue please contact our Prison Law department at Hine Solicitors on 01865 518971 or FREEPOST – RTHU – LEKE – HAZR Hine Solicitors, Seymour House, 285
Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7JF.