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Information About Parole Board Hearings

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 12 Sep 2012 |
 
Parole Board Release Licence Prison

The Parole Board decides whether prisoners should be released from prison on licence or should remain in prison. There are two distinct types of hearings: oral hearings and paper hearings. Oral hearings are hearings in which the prisoner is present, and their legal representative if they have one. They usually take place within the prison in which the prisoner is detained. Paper hearings take place in the absence of the prisoner, and are conducted by one, two or three panel members.

Oral hearings

Oral parole hearings are usually conducted by a circuit judge as the chairman. In some cases, the chairman is a different legally-qualified person or a senior member of the Parole Board. If it is deemed necessary, one or two of the other members may be a psychologist or psychiatrist. The third member is either a criminologist, a member of the probation service or an independent member. Oral hearings are used in cases in which a prisoner who is serving an indeterminate sentence (either a life sentence or IPP – imprisonment for public protection) is applying to be released on licence; and also in cases in which a prisoner serving a determinate sentence or indeterminate sentence has been recalled to prison and wishes to make representations against that decision to recall on licence.

There many be several other people in attendance. These are the prisoner’s lawyer, if they have one (all prisoners are legally entitled to have a representative at a parole board oral hearing); a public protection advocate who represents the victim and the Secretary of State for Justice; and witnesses. The witnesses may include people called to give evidence, such as the prisoner’s probation officer, the prison psychologist, and in some circumstances the victim who may present their personal statement as to the way in which the offender’s crime has affected them.

Paper Hearings

Although oral hearings have three panel members, paper hearings are considered by one, two or three members of the Parole Board. Each of the members, if there is more than one, contributes equally to the decision. There is no requirement for different types of members to decide paper hearings – any type of member may sit on a paper hearing panel.

The ‘papers’ that are considered at these types of hearings include: a dossier, which contains reports from the prison about the offender; reports from the probation service and information about the prisoner’s offence for which they are serving the sentence, as well as information about their previous convictions, if applicable. There are also risk assessments about the prisoner, reports on their behaviour in prison, any courses they have completed and psychological assessments. The dossier sometimes also includes a statement from the victim of the offence.

Paper hearings are used to consider parole applications by prisoners who are serving determinate sentences, as well as for the initial hearing for prisoners who have been recalled to prison while on their licence.

The Role Of The Parole Board

In all cases, the Parole Board has to decide whether the risk posed to the public by the prisoner is low enough to allow the prisoner to be released from custody or transferred to open conditions in prison. In limited circumstances, it is possible to apply for a review of the parole board’s decision by way of judicial review. You should always consult a specialist prison lawyer about your case in these circumstances.

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