By Lucy Caulkett-
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab(pictured) has promised to make public protection will be “the overriding focus” of the parole process under the reforms introduced on Wednesday
A new test for the Parole Board will make it clear that “public safety is the only priority” when making release decisions to stop a “balancing exercise” taking into account prisoners’ rights, said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
The changes, being introduced under the Victims and Prisoners Bill, will for the first time allow ministers to veto the release of the most dangerous offenders, including murderers, rapists, and terrorists. Ministers will also be able to prevent some prisoners from ever getting lawfully married in England and Wales.
Some victims of crime, especially of rape and sexual assault, feel that the criminal justice system has let them down as investigations are slow, and information scarce. Many do not make it to court. Those that do face further delays.
Now the government is promising new legislation to allow victims to be kept informed, and also to challenge decisions.
It follows high-profile parole decisions in cases such as John Worboys and Colin Pitchfork, which the Government says have “shaken public confidence in the system”.
The quality of the parole board’s discretion has been in question ever since those decisions.
Ministers will also be a legal requirement for ex-police officers and detectives to sit on parole panels for these ‘top-tier’ cases.
Their first-hand experience of managing serious offenders and the risk they pose will help place an even greater focus on public protection in parole hearings, said the MoJ.
The new legislation will also stop prisoners serving whole-life orders from marrying or forming a civil partnership in prison.
However, there is also the concern that officers or police officers may be unduly biased against former convicts, depending on the expertise of the officers chosen, and their level of objectivity
The MoJ said this will deny these criminals the “important life events they stole from their victims” while ensuring their horrific crimes are treated with the seriousness they deserve.
Mr Raab said victims’ voices will be cemented at the heart of the justice system following an overhaul of legislation, which will put the principles of the Victims’ Code on a statutory footing and “toughen the parole system”.
“Our reforms will improve the experience for victims from the first meeting with a police officer to the support they get in court. and we will refocus the parole system on its overriding duty to protect the public from violent and sexual criminals,” Mr Raab said.
The Victims and Prisoners Bill will put the principles of the Victims’ Code on a statutory footing meaning that where appropriate victims will have a right to challenge decisions which directly impact them, for example getting the Cron Prosecution Service (CPS) or police to review why their case has been dropped in the most serious cases like rape and domestic abuse.
They will also be afforded the opportunity to make their views heard, for example being able to ask to read out their Victim Personal Statements in court.
The changes announced today will give ministers the power to get the criminal justice inspectorates to jointly inspect prisons, police forces, courts, the CPS and probation to drive improvements in how they support victims.
The process for victims making formal complaints will also be simplified by removing the requirement for them to go through their local MP before speaking to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
The bill will also give ministers the powers to demand more inspections of the police, probation and prosecutors if they aren’t acting in the interest of victims.
Simplify the process for victims making formal complaints. Boost the role of the victims’ commissioner, by requiring criminal justice agencies to publicly respond to their recommendations and set out the rationale for accepting or rejecting them
Children Born Out Of Rape
It will also explicitly designate children born as a result of rape as victims in their own right, making clear that they are entitled to access support services and information on their case
Create a new Independent Public Advocate who will work in the aftermath of major disasters such as Hillsborough, the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire.
Labour said it had been eight years since the Conservatives first promised this bill, “and now they’ve had to combine it with parole reform”.
“Yet again, the Tories overpromise and underdeliver,” said Labour’s shadow victims minister Anna McMorrin.
“Victims are now waiting years for a trial because of record court backlogs, with criminals getting off scot-free at a record rate. Rape victims are suffering on average for three years as they wait to hear their case in court.”
Increased Role Of Victim’s Commissioner
The Bill also bolsters the role of the Victims’ Commissioner by requiring criminal justice agencies to publicly respond to their recommendations and set out the rationale for accepting or rejecting them
Children born as a result of rape will also be explicitly designated as victims in their own right making clear that they are entitled to access support services and information on their case.
Justice Minister, Edward Argar MP, said: “We want victims going through the justice system to feel listened to, supported, informed, and to be treated fairly, properly, and with dignity.
“Taken together, these measures will mean victims always know the level of help they should receive and always have somewhere to turn.”
The Victims and Prisoner Bill will place a duty on criminal justice bodies and non-territorial police forces to take reasonable steps to promote awareness of the Victims’ Code.
A statutory duty on police and crime commissioners (PCCs), health and local authorities in England to work together when commissioning support services for victims of sexual violence, domestic abuse and serious violence will also be introduced.
PCCs will also be given a greater role in overseeing local compliance monitoring of the Victims’ Code, with the Victims’ Commissioner retaining national oversight
The Bill will also creates a new Independent Public Advocate (IPA) which will work on behalf of families and provide dedicated support in the aftermath of major disasters such as Hillsborough, the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire.
The Government said it will continue to engage with the victims of these disasters, the bereaved families and Parliamentarians to make sure that the IPA works to deliver accountability and ensure nothing stops justice happening again.
Justice Minister, Damian Hinds MP, said: “It is vital the public has confidence that murderers, rapists and terrorists will be kept behind bars for as long as is necessary to keep the public safe.
“Our new laws mean ministers can block the release of the most dangerous offenders and will ensure public safety is always the primary factor in parole decisions.
The Bill builds on the wider government work to improve support for victims and ensure offenders pay back to society.
Last year the Victim Surcharge, a financial penalty given to offenders on conviction which goes directly towards support crucial victim services such as rape support centres, was increased by 20 per cent – providing an additional £20 million a year by 2025.
At the same time the Government has committed to more than quadrupling funding for victim support services by 2025 compared with 2010, increasing the number of ISVAs and IDVAs by 43 per cent over the next three years taking the total to more than 1,000.
New rules under initial reforms announced in December 2022, allowed victims, journalists and public to witness parole hearings for the first time, which kicked in early this year in January. It is part of the Uk government’s efforts to delivers on manifesto pledge to make system more transparent.