The Justice Secretary will draw up new guidelines to allow greater public scrutiny of Parole Board decisions following a successful High Court challenge by the Sun newspaper.
The paper hailed a “victory” for press freedom after learning today that it had won its legal challenge, prompted by the Parole Board’s decision to release black cab rapist John Worboys.
Two of his victims have also won a challenge to stop the serial sex offender being released from prison. Worboys will continue to be detained and a different Parole Board will now take a fresh decision on his release.
A Sun spokesperson said: “First and foremost this is a day for the victims, who have fought bravely to take this case to court.
“But it is also a victory for transparency and for the free press in a matter of profound public interest.
“Today’s ruling is a landmark judgement in favour of open justice and will allow the decisions of the Parole Board to be subject to the scrutiny they deserve. This case has shown all too clearly the value of that work.”
Prior to this case, Rule 25 of the Parole Board Rules 2016 had meant that proceedings of the Parole Board, including the names of those concerned, “must not be made public”.
The Sun challenged this rule on the open justice principle, with the High Court today ruling that it does indeed apply to Parole Board proceedings.
The Sun said it challenged the rule on the grounds that the release of information, particularly with regards to an individual released from a high security prison, was “vital to the public interest”.
In their ruling, the High Court judges said: “There are no obvious reasons why the open justice principle should not apply to the Parole Board in the context of providing information on matters of public concern to the very group of individuals who harbour such concern, namely the public itself.
“Indeed, it seems to us that there are clear and obvious reasons why the Parole Board should do so…
“Our conclusion is that the open justice principle, or more particularly the right of the public to receive information which flows from the operation of that principle, applies to the proceedings of the Parole Board.”
The application of the open justice principle in relation to Parole Board hearings “in no way undermines” prisoners’ rights to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the judgement added.
It said Rule 25 “clearly does go too far”, adding: “There is no objective necessity for a rule which stifles the provision of all information relating to the proceedings of the Parole Board, regardless of the justified public interest in any particular set of proceedings and of the fact that not all information needs to be safeguarded.”
They said it will be for the Justice Secretary “to decide how Rule 25 should be reformulated in the light of our judgement”.
The Parole Board is an independent body that carries out risk assessments on prisoners to determine whether they can be safely released into the community.
Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville