In July 2022, the Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab proposed to change the Parole Board rules in an attempt to create a ‘single Secretary of State’ view in high profile cases without the risk of being contradicted by Ministry of Justice (MoJ) staff.
This reform was proposed in a bid to prevent Ministry of Justice staff from expressing their opinion on whether prisoners should be freed.
Judges found this change ‘unlawful’ and suggested that it would have had unintentional consequences and potentially subjected staff who have given evidence to Parole Board hearings to ‘contempt of court’ claims.
The High Court also found that this change would have affected over 12,000 Parole Board hearings since coming into effect.
The judges said “It is not possible to say with certainty what effects this guidance has had in the cases determined while it was in force. But its promulgation may well have resulted in prisoners being released who would not otherwise have been released and in prisoners not being released who would otherwise have been released.”
It is understood that one of the main issues is that a witness’s evidence would hold less weight if there was a suggestion that they were amending their statement to fit their employer’s view.
The judges concluded with “One of the Secretary of State’s principal purposes in making it was to suppress or enable the suppression of relevant opinion evidence which differed from his own view in cases where he expressed one. That purpose was improper.”
“The decision to make the rule was an attempt by a party to judicial proceedings to influence to his own advantage the substance of the evidence given by witnesses employed or engaged by him and an impermissible interference with a judicial process.”
The MoJ has denied that prisoners may have been set free due to this change, as there is no evidence of this happening.
A spokesperson for the MoJ has maintained that the Parole reforms will be brought forward to ensure public protection is at the heart of the system.
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