This change at least was expected. It was one of the few aspects of the “root and branch” review of parole on which the government bothered to carry out any consultation. Many concerns were raised, and these are reflected in complex rules which give panel chairs some very difficult judgements to make. But no detailed guidance has been published alongside these rules, and no information for prisoners or their families, who will understandably be concerned about the possible impacts on them if there is a request for a public hearing.
Ministers also announced another change which has not been the subject of consultation and which has created still more confusion. For some cases, it is now intended that there will be a “single view” from the Secretary of State about whether someone should go to open conditions or be released. At present, a variety of people employed by the Ministry of Justice can advise the Parole Board panel based on their professional expertise and knowledge of the person applying for parole. They may have different opinions, but they can all tell the panel what they think. Under the new rules, those professionals will not be allowed to express a view on what decision they think panel should take.
Yet again, changes have been made which affect the lives of people who have been working for decades to make progress. They’ve been issued on the basis of no consultation, no parliamentary debate and with nothing to explain what they actually mean in practice. So Peter Dawson has written again to the Minister to try to get answers to the questions which people in prison — both prisoners and staff — will be asking.