TRANSFER OF JUDICIAL FUNCTIONS FROM
THE ORIGINAL SENTENCER TO THE BOARD
81. It has become obvious that the Parole Board,
over the last decade, has moved from being primarily an executive
body making administrative decisions on paper and providing non-binding
recommendations to the Home Secretary and now the Secretary of
State for Justice, to being, to all intents and purposes, a court,
making decisions in the cases of the most dangerous offenders
at an oral hearing.
For a wide range of offenders, such as life and Imprisonment for
Public Protection prisoners, the Parole Board has now taken over
the function of determining the effective sentence length.
Adequate resourcing and procedures for the Parole
82. There is some doubt over the capacity of
the Board to deal adequately and timely with an ever increasing
workload. We have already noted that Sir Igor Judge told us that
at the current rate of Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences
being passed, the Parole Board will need an extra 100 judges to
sit on lifer and other panels. We have heard of cases where Parole
Board hearings for IPP prisoners and other lifers had to be deferred
for lack of judicial panel members.
83. The Parole Board is charged with making
judicial decisions about the sentence length for life and Imprisonment
for Public Protection prisoners. It is absolutely vital for the
Board to be able to draw on the resources and personnel (including,
crucially, members of the judiciary to sit on lifer or IPP panels)
to carry out its judicial work. The Ministry of Justice should
ensure the adequate functioning of the Parole Board as a court.
We recommend that it take urgent action to discharge this duty.
84. It is not only the resource and personnel
aspect of the Parole Board which has bearing on the adequate functioning
of the Board as a court. In its written submission to the Home
Affairs Committee, JUSTICE noted that the Board currently had
"insufficient powers to fulfil its functions as well as possible-in
particular, it lacks the power to compel witnesses".
Simon Creighton was adamant that:
"One of the key problems we have as lawyers
representing prisoners at parole hearings is that there is nobody
with any power to make things happen, and all the Parole Board
can do is ask the Prison Service or ask the prisoner's lawyers
to do things, but there is nobody to enforce these timetables
or require people to take action and so things can drag on forever
while people argue about who will do it".
85. Christine Glenn echoed this criticism and
suggested giving the Board statutory powers, which courts already
possessed, such as the power to make wasted costs orders and the
power to call witnesses and enforce witnesses attendance. While
"that would not be the complete answer" she stressed
that such new powers "ought to improve things".
Where the Parole Board operates as a court effectively determining
the length of custodial sentences for a large number of prisoners
it will need the requisite powers to discharge its functions appropriately
and in a timely fashion. We recommend that the Parole Board be
provided with powers to compel the attendance of witnesses and
to make wasted costs orders.