The Sun has labelled Parole Board proposals to increase transparency in the decision making behind prisoners’ release “an insult”.
The newspaper won a High Court challenge for greater public scrutiny of Parole Board rulings after the decision to release black cab rapist John Worboys sparked public outcry.
The Sun challenged the “scandalous secrecy” around the hearings, which the High Court ruled said went against the principal of open justice.
Two of Worboys’s victims also won a challenge to stop the serial rapist from being released from prison as new potential victims have come forward.
Justice Secretary David Gauke is due to draw up new guidelines on how Parole Board decisions are taken and how transparent the process is.
In a letter to the Ministry of Justice published this week, Parole Board chairman Nick Hardwick – who has since resigned from the board – outlined the board’s proposals.
The letter was sent on 15 March, before the Suns’ legal victory, as part of a Government review of parole decisions following the original decision to release Worboys in January.
Hardwick acknowledged the Worboys case had “raised some major issues about whether the board’s status, structure, resources and working methods have kept pace with its growing work load and responsibilities”.
The letter said: “The board proposes a phased approach to increasing the transparency of parole decision making, to balance the need for open justice with the principles of safety and privacy.”
It admitted that opening up the work of the Parole Board to scrutiny by the public, Parliament, victims and prisoners themselves would involve “significant change” to the way it operates.
The Parole Board said it planned to “make better use” of social media and its website to communicate how decisions are made, and launch a public portal giving access to current cases and recent decisions that have been approved for publication.
But The Sun hit out at the fact that the board does not want to release its full reasons for decisions, or even a redacted version, preferring to make a summary version available on request.
The board also said it would resist holding public hearings due to the need to prevent the disclosure of “sensitive information” and “ensure hearings encourage the greatest degree of candour from the prisoner and other witnesses as possible”.
Hardwick added:“The physical constrains arising from hearings being held in prison would make public hearings very difficult at present.”
The board was also reluctant to name panel members involved in particular decisions.
“The safety of members is a priority for the board and we think this may be compromised if the identity of those taking a controversial decision to refuse or approve release was known,” the letter said.
“We have been concerned by the very threatening and abusive language used in some responses to the Worboys decision.”
The Sun described Hardwick’s recommendations as an “insult” and called on Gauke to make parole rulings fully transparent.
An editorial today, the paper said: “The Parole Board still doesn’t get it. Its recommendations for ending the scandalous secrecy around its hearings are an insult.
“It wants the public barred. It wants its members anonymous, to evade scrutiny for rulings like the John Worboys fiasco.
“It wants to withhold detailed findings and issue a mere summary on request.
“It’s Whitehall’s usual refrain: ‘We know best… the public can’t be trusted.’
“The Sun’s legal challenge over Worboys forced this rethink – and Justice Secretary David Gauke has a chance here to mend his battered reputation.
“He must make parole rulings and panels as open to scrutiny as courts and judges.”
Prisons expert Mark Leech told the newspaper: “If we name our magistrates and judges who send people to jail, what on earth is the point of concealing the names of Parole Board panel members who decide whether to release them or not?”
The Sun received support from former Conservative MP and London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, who tweeted: “The Sun is 100 per cent right about this.
“Even after the Worboys disgrace, the Parole Board still wants to be shrouded in secrecy and insulated from scrutiny. The Government must open the system up.”