Justice Secretary 'to intervene' on black cab rapist John Worboys release

Tom Rayner, Political Correspondent

The Justice Secretary David Gauke has requested advice from lawyers on whether the release of black cab rapist John Worboys could be challenged in court.

The decision of the Parole Board to approve the release of Worboys later this month caused outrage amongst his victims, charities and MPs.

According to the Sunday Times, Mr Gauke, who became Justice Secretary on Monday, has come under pressure from four fellow Cabinet ministers to bring a judicial review of the decision.

In a statement, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson confirmed lawyers had been asked to make an assessment on the merits of an intervention.

:: Parole chief apologises to victims not told of Worboys' release

:: How the Parole Board decided to release Worboys

"The Secretary of State commissioned advice last week about the plausibility and potential success of a judicial review; he is only minded to move forward if there is a reasonable prospect of success," they said.

A three-person panel decided 60-year-old Worboys was no longer a danger to the public and approved his release on licence, but with 14 secret restrictions, yet his victims - who were attacked between 2002 and 2008 - only found out through the media.

It is understood any challenge would focus on failures to communicate with victims about its decision, or to seek representations from victims on the licensing terms that Worboys would be subjected to.

Sarah Green, from the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: "The Justice Secretary's potential attempt to try and stop the release of dangerous rapist John Worboys is very welcome.

"Women have been singularly failed throughout this case, from initial investigations all the way through to the parole board decision.

"The victims of this man's crimes, who have been treated appallingly by police and the Parole Board, will hopefully have some relief at this news."

Last Tuesday, Mr Gauke delivered a statement in the House of Commons in relation to the Parole Board's decision.

:: Victims urge CPS to bring fresh charges against Worboys

:: Starmer: CPS made rapist decision

He told MPs that a review, due to report back at Easter, would look at what changes could be made to the regulations that govern the Parole Board to allow greater transparency of the decision-making process and its communication with victims, but said it appeared the correct process had been followed in terms of the decision itself.

"While it appears the correct procedures were followed, the fact that some victims learnt the decision from the media suggests there is a need to review these procedures to assess whether lessons can be learned and improvements can be made," said Mr Gauke.

It is understood the terms of Worboys' release have yet to be finalised, and that his release will only take place once all victims who have subscribed to the Victim Contact Scheme have been given the opportunity to make representations to the Parole Board on the licensing conditions he will be subjected to.

Several MPs have welcomed the prospect of a judicial review. Tory minister Anna Soubry, a criminal barrister, tweeted: "Like many familiar with facts of Worboys offending & failure of Parole Board to consult victims I struggle to believe he's no longer dangerous."

:: Parole Board chair to face MPs over rapist's 'disturbing' release

:: Worboys victims left in dark over rapist's release conditions

Meanwhile, chairman of the Parole Board Nick Hardwick has urged MPs to back his calls to change the law to allow the board to better communicate how it arrives at decisions.

But Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said changing the rules for future cases was "not enough".

She tweeted: "Not enough for Govt to just change Parole Board transparency rules for future cases. Need legal review of this case."

Worboys was convicted in 2009 on 19 counts of drugging and sexually assaulting 12 women, and one count of rape.

Last week, the Crown Prosecution Service said it had no plans to review 93 unprosecuted allegations against Worboys, saying new evidence from police would have to be referred to them.

When he was sentenced in 2009, Worboys received an open-ended indeterminate public protection order - with a minimum tariff of eight years. If his release goes ahead, he will leave prison having served one year more than his minimum sentence.