Tories pledge to allow victims and media into parole hearings

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor
Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Victims and the media would be allowed to apply to attend parole hearings under reforms pledged by the Conservatives.

The Tories said they wanted to reform the parole system, which has been accused of not being transparent enough following a successful court challenge last year over the proposed release of serial sex attacker John Worboys.

Following that controversy, the government undertook reforms that forced parole boards to publish the reasoning for their decisions and gave victims the right to challenge release decisions on violent offenders.

The Tories said there would be a further root-and-branch review of prisoner release arrangements under a Conservative-majority government, which would include allowing victims and the media to apply to attend parole hearings.

Under a package of policies for victims of crime, the party said it would increase by 25% the victims surcharge – a fine on offenders that goes towards refuges and community support for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. It also said it would enshrine the rights of victims in law to guarantee the level of support they should receive.

Victoria Atkins, a Home Office minister, said: “Victims of crime will often have been through horrific and harrowing experiences. They may have had their lives ripped apart because of physical, emotional or economic abuse. These plans will help to ensure that the system is working for them, not against them – and that they can always count on receiving the justice and support that they deserve.”

In March 2018, the high court blocked the release of Worboys, a former black-cab driver, and ruled that the parole board “should have undertaken further inquiry into the circumstances of his offending” before taking the decision.

The Parole Board had approved Worboys’ release after deciding that he no longer posed a threat to the public. The cab driver was jailed indefinitely in 2009 with a minimum term of eight years after being found guilty of 19 offences against 12 of his passengers, with one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted assault and 12 drugging charges. Police believe he committed crimes against 105 women between 2002 and 2008 when he was caught.

After a new inquiry, the board reversed its previous decision and ruled that Worboys should remain in prison indefinitely. The board’s chair, Nick Hardwick, had to resign after David Gauke, then the justice secretary, told him his position was untenable.

Following the Worboys controversy, Gauke, who is now standing as an independent, unveiled plans for a judge-led process that could in some instances be open to the public to force the board to reconsider a decision without victims having to resort to a judicial review.

Initial legislation was also introduced to remove the blanket ban on transparency and allow the parole board to explain decisions to victims, media and the public, alongside expanding the victim contact scheme.