All parole hearings should be public, says former head of the board at centre of John Worboys affair

Charles Hymas
·2 min read
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All parole hearings should be open to the public, says the former head of the service who was forced to quit in the controversy over the proposed release of the black cap rapist John Worboys.

Nick Hardwick, who stepped down as judges overturned a parole board decision to release Worboys, said the parole board should become a fully independent court system held accountable by having its hearings open to the public, press and victims and with a right of appeal.

This would mean that not only would “justice be seen to be done” but it would also prevent ministers sacking parole board members if they disagreed with their decisions.

The parole board is currently an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), rather than operating like courts fully independent of Government.

Mr Hardwick, a former chief inspector of prisons who headed the parole board for two years, made his comments as the MoJ launched a root-and-branch review of parole that will consider opening it up to victims, the press and possibly the public and if it should operate more like courts or tribunals.

“I held the view prior to Worboys that for justice to be done, justice needs to be seen to be done,” he told The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday.

He said such transparency, lifting the traditional veil of secrecy over its hearings, would generate better public understanding of its workings and decisions.

He said it should be modelled on the Canadian system where any member of the public could use a database of upcoming parole hearings to request access.

The covid-19 pandemic had shown that remote hearings by video could be conducted from prisons, with the ability to “mute” or restrict access to personal medical or psychological details or to spare victims from distressing information affecting them.

If there was high demand for a high-profile case, the parole hearing could be held in a conventional courtroom. “I believe we should start from the presumption that all parole hearings are open as any other court and only parts held in private,” said Mr Hardwick.

“I would support that rather than the reverse where most are held in secret and only some are held in public.”

Mr Hardwick was forced to quit after the then Justice Secretary David Gauke told him his position was “untenable” after some of the victims of Worboys were left in the dark about the decision to release him.

His resignation came before three high court judges ruled that the Parole Board’s decision to release him should be quashed and ordered a “fresh determination” in his case. A second parole hearing ruled he should remain in jail.

Mr Hardwick said he would not pass the buck and stepped down.