The Parole Board is an entirely independent body whose members come from all walks of life. The Board is not influenced by or attached to any other organisation, i.e. HMP Prison Service, the Probation Service or the Police. They are independent risk assessors and they make up their own minds in every case, based on the evidence presented to them.
Parole reviews are complex and require large dossiers of prison and probation reports which are generated as the prisoner progresses through their sentence. This dossier contains the only evidence which will be considered by the Parole Board when they make their initial assessment of a prisoner’s suitability for progression to open conditions, or release. It is therefore essential that all reports are accurate, unambiguous and detailed, however this is often not the case! It is imperative that legal representations are added to the dossier to be considered by the Parole Board, in order to state the prisoner’s case and application and to ensure that any errors are corrected and any negative entries or reports can be properly challenged.
There are two different ways in which a parole review can take place, namely paper review and oral hearing.
Every single parole review is commenced by way of a Member Case Assessment, also known as the paper review. These reviews are considered by a single member of the Board who is tasked to consider the dossier, and legal representations, and to make a decision as to what happens to the offender. Their options are:
- To make no recommendation (prisoner will remain where they are), or
- To direct an Oral Hearing.
No IPP or Life Sentenced prisoner will progress to open conditions, or be released without first being subject to an Oral Hearing, where oral evidence will be heard from the prisoner and the professional witnesses (probation, psychology, security etc..) Again it is essential that the prisoner be legally represented at these hearings in order that they are advised on how best to state their case, and of course so that the evidence of any witness can be challenged on the prisoner’s behalf. An Oral Hearing is a Judicial type hearing and can be extremely stressful to the prisoner.
Here at CM Solicitors, our prison lawyers pride themselves on fully preparing prisoners for their hearings and being able to put them at ease in order that they can give the best possible evidence.
The process and how we can help
- The prisoner will receive a notice from the Offender Management Unit, notifying them of when their parole dossier will be produced and asking who their legal representative is.
- At this stage the prisoner should make contact with us in order to allow time for a file to be opened and a copy of the dossier obtained from the prison.
- We will then carefully consider the dossier and take instructions from the prisoner in order to enable us to draft and submit legal representations which will be considered by the Parole Board member. Our aim at this review is to obtain, on behalf of the prisoner, a direction for an oral hearing in order that the prisoner may make their application to the Parole Board at that hearing.
- If an oral hearing is directed we will continue to advise and represent the prisoner in relation to the evidence and hearing procedure and we will attend at the hearing, in person (not by video or telephone link) to represent the prisoner at their Oral Hearing.
- We will also attend to represent our clients (in person) at their Oral Hearings in order to ensure that clients give the best possible evidence and that the professional witnesses are cross-examined.
The only way in which an IPP/LIFER can be released, or transferred to open conditions by the Parole Board, is via an Oral Hearing. In some cases DCR (1991 Act) parole reviews and recall reviews are also dealt with by way of an Oral Hearing.
Prisoners are entitled to legal representation at these hearings and in most cases (all but pre tariff) prisoners are entitled to Legal Aid.
It is essential that the prisoner is prepared for the Hearing to ensure that they present their cases in the best possible way. Some prisoners have been “knocked back” by the Parole Board simply because they were not prepared for the hearing.