Parole Board chair, Nick Hardwick, has expressed regret over the Board’s ‘lack’ of transparency regarding its processes and has voiced his concern for victims who were not made aware of the decision to grant sex attacker John Worboys parole. Hardwick has outlined options for change and has announced the Board will soon launch a public consultation regarding how it shares its decisions. Further, in a letter to the Lord Chancellor, David Lidington, more than 50 MPs have expressed their concerns over the management of Worboys release, saying the decision illuminates procedural issues and the rights of victims and survivors of serious sexual assault. The MPs have called for the Board to conduct an investigation into the decision.

Gemma Lindfield of 5 St Andrew’s Hill suggests the case highlights the need for victims to be informed of the Board’s decisions.

Worboys was convicted in 2009 of 19 offences involving the drugging and sexual assault of multiple women, including one count of rape and five for sexual assault. He was sentenced to a minimum eight-year tariff and has served 10 years in prison.

Warboys is due to be released at the end of the month on parole, however, victims of his attacks were not informed of the Board’s decision to release him. Hardwick noted that this is a concern as the Board does already have ‘robust arrangements in place’, such as the Victim Contact Scheme, to inform victims of their decisions. Hardwick also assured that the decision was made under the assurance that the Victim Contact Scheme had been followed. 

The decision has been met with heavy scrutiny from charities such as Rape Crisis, which has said it is ‘completely unacceptable’ that the victims were not notified. MP, Yvette Cooper, also expressed her concern saying she was ‘really shocked’ by the decision, and she believes there are ‘very serious questions about this decision’.

Rape Crisis has called for an explanation of the Parole Board’s procedures. However, Hardwick noted that the Board currently has ‘a statutory duty under the Parole Board Rules that prevents disclosure of proceedings’. 

Considering the responsibilities of the Parole Board

Gemma Lindfield, says the key question for the Parole Board is whether someone will re-offend. She explains that in each case: ‘The Board will consider the offences, the sentencing remarks, behaviour in prison, programmes the offender may have engaged in and reports from people that know the offender, such as prison officers and psychiatrists.’

Regarding making the Parole Board decisions public, Lindfield says she can see the argument for making some decisions public as this would ensure the rationale is understood. She explains: ‘It is the public’s safety that is central to the Board’s deliberations.’

Lindfield says, however, that this needs to be weighed against the need to protect an offender from the dissemination of sensitive information and the danger of vigilante action.

Lindfield continues: ‘The case has highlighted the need for victims to be informed of a Parole Board’s decisions and this appears to be accepted by the chairman of the Parole Board, going as far as to say that the women had been “failed by the system”.

‘This news can re-traumatise Worboys’ victims and I consider that the state has a duty of care to support them in what will be a difficult time. Offenders who are released on licence are given support, as would be expected in a just and fair society. But what cannot be underestimated and what should not be forgotten is the impact of victims of the release of an offender back into society.’

Victim input

The Parole Board decision is not public, Lindfield says, and therefore we do not know whether any of the victim’s views were considered at the parole hearing. Given the number of victims that have come forward to indicate that they had no knowledge of the decision, though, there is no obligation on the Probation Service to inform them of such, it is reasonable to presume that there was minimal input from the victims.

Lindfield continues: ‘This is not altogether surprising because the Board considers the progress that an offender has made. However, I can see a need for victim input in some cases. I consider this to be one of those cases.

‘After conviction, many women came forward to implicate Worboys…Given the sheer number of possible victims of Worboys, there should be a place for the Parole Board to consider the other women’s accounts in considering whether Worboys poses a risk to women.’

An ‘unduly lenient’ decision?

Lindfield says the sentence was not considered ‘unduly lenient’ because Warboys was sentenced to a term of ‘imprisonment for public protection’ and as such, although Worboys was ordered to serve at least eight years, he could not be released until the Parole Board considered that he no longer posed a risk.

Lindfield says: ‘I believe the spotlight will now be focused on the Crown Prosecution Service's decision to take no further action in respect of the other complainants. Was the decision taken due to insufficient evidence or was it considered not to be in the public interest or a combination of the two? What will be interesting is the extent to which Worboys’ sentence was taken into account when reviewing the public interest test.’

Gemma Lindfield is an experienced extradition, family, criminal and public law barrister with a particular focus on human rights. Gemma has been instructed in some of the most complex and high-profile extradition cases. Gemma is ranked in Chambers and Partners 2017 as a leader in the field of extradition at the London Bar.

This article was originally published by Lexis Nexis PLS on 5 January 2018. For a free trial of Lexis Nexis PSL, click here.