Sunday, September 09, 2007

Court rules English Parole Board not independent

Not really a Scottish story, but with the conflicts of interest going on in the background on just about all appointments to such similar institutions in Scotland, the finding by the English Courts that the Parole Board south of the Border is not sufficiently independent could have an effect up here later on ....

The Times Reports :

Court rules Parole Board "not sufficiently independent"

Times Online and PA

The Government’s arrangements for the Parole Board “do not sufficiently demonstrate its objective independence”, the High Court declared today.

The extraordinary ruling was immediately stayed while Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice, attempts to overturn it in the Court of Appeal.

If the appeal bid fails, the Government faces the task of having to restructure the Parole Board system.

The ruling was won by four prisoners fighting for release from custody who argued their right to a fair hearing had been violated because of the close link between the Board and the Government.

Lord Justice Hughes and Mr Justice Treacy, sitting at London’s High Court, said they had found no sign of any attempt by the former Home Office, and now the Ministry of Justice, to influence individual cases.

But they ruled that “the present arrangements for the Parole Board do not sufficiently demonstrate its objective independence of the Secretary of State, as required by the English common law and Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Article 5 protects a detained person’s right to a speedy hearing before an independent tribunal to determine whether detention and imprisonment is lawful.

One of the solicitors who won the landmark victory, John Dickinson, from Irwin Mitchell, said “If it is upheld on appeal, this judgment will affect not only tens of thousands of prison inmates but all those who rely on Parole Board decisions.”

“This issue of the Parole Board not being sufficiently independent of the Government was emphasised by its description in a Home Office review as being ’an instrument of Government policy’.

“The Court found that the influence and control that the Secretary of State has over the Board fatally undermines its required perception of independence.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Naturally we are disappointed by today’s judgment in the High Court.

“We believe we have a strong case to make and intend to seek permission to appeal.

A Parole Board spokesman said: “Unless the decision is reversed on appeal, this means that the Secretary of State will have to take the necessary steps to ensure that the board does become sufficiently independent, or risk being in contempt of the court.

“Those steps might include moving the sponsorship of the board to a government department that is not party to the proceedings of the board, as the Ministry of Justice is in its role as the department responsible for the National Offender Management Service.

“It might alternatively involve the board, as a court, becoming part of Her Majesty’s Courts Service.”

Recognising the far-reaching impact of their decision, the judges granted the Government permission to appeal

No comments: