Victims and Prisoners Bill

Share this


It’s difficult to believe that a Secretary of State for Justice could have less of a basic grasp of the criminal justice system than Liz Truss but the current incumbent seems determined to prove us wrong.

The latest proposals in the Victims and Prisoners Bill are the usual offerings of bluster, ignorance, headline-grabbing and distraction from Ministers fresh from a humiliating and entirely foreseeable defeat at the High Court in relation to the so-called Secretary of State’s Single View as regards the parole process.

The Government’s reported commitment that “victims’ voices will be cemented at the heart of the justice system” ring hollow given the Secretary of State and his political party have fought to ensure that statues have greater protection under the criminal justice system than some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. The lengthy list of failures of this Government and its predecessors from 2010 in relation to the victims of crime is the obvious consequence of their assaults on the criminal justice system, be it through the starvation of public services under ‘austerity’ or the repeated – and fascistic – comments by Ministers that question the legitimacy of the Courts and members of the legal profession. While the Secretary of State claims to want “to ensure dangerous offenders face the strictest scrutiny” it remains the case that he and others have presided over the wholesale devastation of large parts of the criminal justice system in their thirteen long years in power.

In relation to the parole process the bill is to include the following measures:-

·         Enshrining a new release test for the Parole Board into law, leaving no room for confusion over whether public safety should be the only priority when making release decisions

The evidence, from their botched interference in the parole process last year, suggests the only confused person as regards the ‘release test’ is the Secretary of State for Justice. Unfortunately they’re also the person with the power to inflict further havoc through their ignorance on others in the criminal justice system.

·         Creating a new tier of the most serious offenders including murderers, rapists and terrorists and giving the Justice Secretary the power to veto the release of those offenders in the interest of public safety. It will also be available in cases where the Parole Board cannot confidently decide the release test has been met.

While a more detailed examination of the provisions of the Bill is ongoing it’s apparent that this represents a further attempt by the Secretary of State for Justice to engage in a power grab and undermine a fundamental power of the Parole Board, similar to what we saw by their behaviour last year. Given what we know of their intentions it’s apparent this is a means to increase their own control over a part of the criminal justice system while trying to generate favourable headlines in the right-wing media, especially given the likelihood of a further legal challenge to these provisions through the domestic Courts or the European Court of Human Rights.

There is current evidence of the chaos the Secretary of State has created with their political interference in relation to the overcrowding of prisons, contributed to by the refusal of the Secretary of State to accept the vast majority of Parole Board recommendations for progression to ‘open conditions’. If they receive powers to veto release it’s clear, from their past behaviour, that they will use this enthusiastically and in doing so increase the prison population.    

·         Making it a legal requirement for ex-police officers and detectives to sit on parole panels for these ‘top-tier’ cases. Their first-hand experience of managing serious offenders and the risk they pose will help place an even greater focus on public protection in parole hearings.

With respect to those Police Officers who have a role in managing individuals in the community subject to MAPPA, it’s an ongoing grievous insult to Probation staff to suggest that we do not have the greatest level of expertise, training and experience to “manage serious offenders and the risk they pose”.

Members will be aware from significant media coverage, especially in recent months, of the extent of serious misconduct – including the commission of sexual and physical abuse of vulnerable members of the public – by a minority of Police Officers in England and Wales. The Secretary of State must provide assurances to the public that any ex-Police Officer who is a Parole Board member – including those currently appointed – are subject to the most stringent vetting possible, involving an examination of any prior allegations of such misconduct during their time as a serving Police Officer, to properly assess that they are entirely suitable to fulfil this crucial role.

In the coming weeks and months Napo will work with those in the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group, as well as other campaigning organisations, to inform the Parliamentary debates on this Bill and make clear our opposition to the plans of the Secretary of Justice in this regard. We will keep you updated with this work as it progresses.