Reconsideration Mechanism Added to Parole Board Rules
What There Is To Know About the New Parole Board Rules
A new Reconsideration mechanism has been included in the updated Parole Board Rules and comes into force on 22nd July 2019.
Under the new rule parties to the parole process such as the Secretary of State ( also acting on behalf of a victim through PPCS) or the prisoner may apply for a decision to be re-considered if the decision is considered to be legally or procedurally flawed.
The new rules state that when the Parole Board has issued a decision following an oral hearing that decision will remain in force as a provisional decision only for a period of 21 days after the decision was issued.
Within the 21 day provisional period any application for reconsideration must be made.
If no application is received within the 21 day period then the decision of the Parole Board becomes final. Release of prisoners will not take place until a decision has become final which will potentially cause further delay.
This will add a further 21 days of delay to actual release.
Whilst release decisions will not become final until after the 21 day period the guidance indicates that those formulating release plans should continue in any event, that means they should not delay the release process further during the 21 day period., For example a referral to Approved Premises should continue in any event in anticipation that the Parole Board release decision will be upheld.
However, in reality if a re-consideration application is made by one of the parties referred to earlier and is considered to be a justified application under the procedure this may well result in the original decision being referred back to the Parole Board. This will cause further delay.
Prisoners Affected by the Reconsideration Mechanism
Obviously not all prisoners will be affected by the Reconsideration Mechanism however for those subject to an indeterminate sentence for public protection or life sentence the reconsideration procedure will apply.
Also affected are prisoners subject to extended sentences and determinate sentences where initial release is at the discretion of the Parole Board.
Recall prisoners who are subject to the above sentences will also be subject to the Reconsideration Mechanism following an oral hearing.
The mechanism comes into force on 22nd July 2019 which means that any decision made after that date for a prisoner who fits into the relevant category will be subject to the new Reconsideration procedure.
No prisoner can be released until after the ‘reconsideration period’ at which point the initial Parole Board decision becomes final as long as the decision is unchallenged or remains approved after challenge (14 days to obtain the decision and the 21 day Reconsideration period – 5 weeks).
The Public Protection Casework Section will deal with all reconsideration applications and make an assessment as to whether in the circumstances there are grounds for the matter to be referred back to the Parole Board.
It is the duty of the Victim Liaison Officer to ensure that any victim affected by the potential outcome of a Parole decision is aware of the procedure being in place and all other appropriate information relating to the 21 day period.
Effective Reconsideration Decision
If one of the parties such as the Secretary of State makes a successful application for re-consideration of a Parole Board decision which granted release within the 21 day period the matter will be referred back to the Parole Board.
The Parole Board will then refer the matter to a Judicial Member who will decide whether the reconsideration application should be rejected or whether the matter should be referred back to the Parole Board on the basis that the final decision of the Parole Board was fundamentally flawed.
If the Judicial Member decides a reconsideration application has merit the Judicial Member has the power to refer the application back to the original Parole Board panel who made the decision or to refer the matter to a new panel of members of the Parole Board for a fresh re-consideration of the case.
The new Reconsideration Mechanism if applied successfully may result in significant delay to a prisoner being released from custody.
There will be an initial delay whilst the application is considered, if the application is successful there will be a further delay if the matter is referred back to the original panel to review their initial decision.
If the matter is referred to a new panel this will cause considerable delay as the matter will need to be re-listed before a new panel of members at an oral hearing and will be subject to the ongoing constraints on the Parole Board (taking into account the time it currently takes to list a matter to be heard before an oral panel).
If the matter is referred for a fresh consideration of the original decision this also may result in requests for further reports addressing the concerns that were raised in the application.
If a reconsideration application is successful all original release plans will be suspended to take account of the new review process.
As a consequence the new procedure introduced on 22nd July 2019 has the capacity to introduce further significant delay into the Parole process for both prisoners and practitioners.
The new guidance indicates that the Ministry of Justice do not consider that a large amount of reconsideration applications will be successful, however it remains to be seen how many applications are actually made in the future by victims, the Secretary of State or prisoners..