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Parole Board pilots schemes to reduce waiting time for oral hearings (27 September 2016)

Date: 27/09/2016
Duncan Lewis, Legal News Solicitors, Parole Board pilots schemes to reduce waiting time for oral hearings

The Parole Board has announced trials of different approaches to reduce the time prisoners have to wait for an oral hearing.

The Parole Board says it has experienced an increase in the demand for oral hearings since the Osborn, Booth and Riley judgment handed down in 2013 – resulting in delays for a large number of prisoners waiting for an oral hearing date.

The listing prioritisation framework developed to help the Parole Board manage the increased volume of cases currently prioritises recalled determinate sentenced prisoners above most other prisoners when allocating oral hearing dates each month.

However, as a result, other prisoners are experiencing much longer delays before an oral hearing date is set.

The board says it recognises a need for changing the current approach in order to ensure fairness across the system – and to address the problem, four trials are being piloting until the end of March 2017.

The trials involve working more closely with the Public Protection Casework Section (PPCS) to make more effective use of the option of “executive release” – eligible cases will be considered for executive release at an earlier stage of the parole process, before a case is directed to an oral hearing.

The Parole Board says it is hoped this will reduce the number of cases waiting in the queue for an oral hearing date and allow prisoners to be released more quickly.

The board is also extending the cut off point for determinate cases with an upcoming Sentence Expiry Date (SED) – cases directed to oral hearing are currently concluded if the SED is within 12 weeks’ time of the oral hearing directions. This is because there is insufficient time to schedule an oral hearing before a prisoner will be automatically released. The time limit will now be extended to 24 weeks.

The Parole Board will also change the listing prioritisation framework, so that prisoners who have 12 months or less before their SED will no longer be prioritised. This means most recall cases will no longer be listed ahead of other sentence types, resulting in a fairer system. A full review of the listings framework will take place by April 2017.

The board is also looking into the possibility of using Ministry of Justice video link rooms across the UK to host hearings for determinate sentence prisoners.

Currently, video link hearings can only be hosted at the board’s London-based office, which limits capacity. The Parole Board says it hopes that, by creating regional hubs across the UK, more cases can be heard more swiftly – which would also hopefully ensure prisoners with determinate sentences would not be disadvantaged by the pilots.

The board adds that it is taking a flexible approach to the pilots – and if any prisoners believe that they have exceptional circumstances that warrant prioritisation of their case, they can write to the Parole Board.

Such circumstances can include, but are not limited to, medical/mental health issues and/or compassionate reasons, for example.

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