Killers being considered for parole could stay locked up for life under new minister veto plans
Killers being considered for parole could stay locked up until the end of their life sentence under new minister veto plans.
Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, said he is “confident” the plans are lawful, adding that he would not allow “the risk of spurious litigation to stop us doing what's right”.
The Government is strengthening scrutiny over the release of the most dangerous offenders, including murderers, rapists, terrorists or those who have caused or allowed the death of a child.
This will include a new ministerial power to overrule a parole board recommendation to release a prisoner, if it is deemed that it is in the interests of public safety to keep them behind bars.
It is part of the biggest shake-up of the board in its 54-year history and is designed to prevent a repeat of scandals including the release of Colin Pitchfork, a double child murderer, and an abortive decision to free John Worboys, the black cab rapist.
The move will restore a power to block the release of high-risk criminals that was previously held by ministers but which ended after successful legal challenges in Europe and the UK claimed it was a breach of prisoners’ human rights to let politicians rather than judges determine sentence lengths.
Under the new powers, multiple ministerial vetoes could be used to ensure a dangerous criminal remains in prison until the end of their life sentence.
Mr Raab said: "If it's a fixed term sentence then we can only manage parole decisions until the end of the licence
"If it's an indeterminate sentence, it will be until they can satisfy the Parole Board and ultimately the Secretary of State that they no longer represent risk to the public."
He confirmed this could involve multiple vetoes for life sentence prisoners, adding: “You want to constantly test whether somebody is actually willing to engage with the rehabilitation and what progress they're making.
“I don't think it's any secret that the Parole Board doesn't like this. The Parole Board rather regards this as a balancing act exercise.
"If this individual poses a risk to the public, they should not be released. I'm confident it is lawful. I am confident that it is lawful, but we shouldn't allow the risk of spurious litigation to stop us doing what's right."
Mr Raab also confirmed that serial killers like Levi Bellfield will be barred from getting married while in jail under new plans to protect vulnerable women who become "pen pals" with "nasty offenders".
Officials at the Ministry of Justice have been taking legal advice to see if there is a way to block the application by Bellfield to marry his fiancee, said to be a prison visitor in her 40s whom he has befriended while in the high security Frankland jail in county Durham.
Mr Raab said: “When I've looked at this, there is a history of vulnerable, vulnerable women who have become pen pals with serial killers or particularly nasty offenders who get into relationship and then there is an issue around marriage.
"We're doing this as a safeguarding issue but also as a public confidence in the justice system issue."
But Mr Raab added that the new laws may not be in place in time to stop Bellfield, explaining: “It depends how quickly you get [the bill] through. I'm using all my powers that I've got at the moment from stopping that happening but we'll always behave in a lawful way."
Bellfield has applied for permission to marry the woman prison visitor while he is serving two whole life orders for murdering Marsha McDonnell, Amelie Delagrange and Milly Dowler. He is said to have got down on one knee to propose in front of prison staff.
It is understood the woman began corresponding with Bellfield after he wrote to her two years ago.