Victims to be able to apply for public Parole Board hearings

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Dominic Raab - Paul Cooper
Dominic Raab - Paul Cooper

Victims will be able to apply for Parole Board hearings to be held in public from next month, Dominic Raab has announced.

It is one of the first moves in a Government push to boost public confidence in the justice system and comes after years of calls from campaigners for greater transparency.

Hearings will be public when they are considered to be in the "interests of justice", with the welfare of victims taken into account. The first trial hearings of the "open justice" approach took place earlier this month.

The changes, which take effect from July 21, are being made in the wake of the scandal surrounding the "black cab rapist" John Worboys, who was convicted in 2009 for sexual offences against 12 women.

John Worboys - Metropolitan Police/PA
John Worboys - Metropolitan Police/PA

The Parole Board wrote to Worboys in 2017 to notify him of his early release from prison, but some of his victims were not informed of the decision – which was overturned by the High Court after an appeal. Months later, Worboys admitted to four further attacks on women.

New powers also allow the Justice Secretary to make recommendations regarding the release of murderers, rapists and terrorists, or their move to an open prison, before the board makes a final decision.

Mr Raab can also challenge decisions when new information emerges about an offender or procedures have not been properly followed.

'We are overhauling the system'

"We are making proceedings more transparent, so victims and the public can see justice being done," Mr Raab said.

"I am also making sure there is one, crystal clear, recommendation from the Justice Secretary when it comes to the risk of release of the most serious offenders.

"We are overhauling the system, to make sure public protection is the overriding priority."

Mr Raab last month called for the board to be overhauled to "protect the public" after it rejected his appeal to reconsider the release of the mother of Baby P.

Tracey Connelly was jailed in 2008 for causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable person, and was locked up again in 2015 for breaking the terms of her indefinite sentence.

Colin Pitchfork - Shutterstock
Colin Pitchfork - Shutterstock

Meanwhile, the double child killer Colin Pitchfork was released last September after the Parole Board ruled he was no longer a danger to the public, only to be recalled to prison two months after release.

As part of wider reforms, motorists convicted of killing by dangerous driving will face life in jail from Tuesday under new laws that increase the maximum sentence from 14 years.

The legislation will create a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, ensuring that those who inflict long-term or permanent injuries could face up to two years in jail.

Deaf people will also be entitled to have British Sign Language interpreters in the jury room for the first time, under reforms in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act.

Legislation had previously barred interpreters, preventing deaf people from fully participating in any trial unless they were able to lip read or hear sufficiently well to take part in jury deliberations.