Victims of serious crimes will be given the power to mount instant challenges to Parole Board decisions on the release of prisoners – under reforms following the case of John Worboys, the black-cab rapist.
David Gauke, the justice secretary, will announce this week that victims who can produce strong grounds for a challenge will be able to apply within 21 days for the decisions to be looked at again, without having to go through the lengthy and costly judicial review process.
There was an uproar when the Parole Board approved Worboys’s release in January last year after deciding that he no longer posed a threat to the public. The cab driver was jailed indefinitely in 2009 with a minimum term of eight years after being found guilty of 19 offences against 12 of his passengers, with one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted assault and 12 drugging charges. Police believe he committed crimes against 105 women between 2002 and 2008 when he was caught.
Carrie Symonds, a former Conservative party worker who has been romantically linked with Boris Johnson, has revealed that she was one of Worboys’s victims. She told how, when she was 19, he had offered to take her home after she had spent a night out in London. Worboys offered her a drink and she blacked out. She called the police after hearing that a taxi driver had been accused of rape after giving women spiked champagne.
Two of his victims used crowdfunding to challenge the decision to release him. A judicial review led to a decision by the high court that the Parole Board should conduct a “fresh determination” into the case.
After a new inquiry, the board reversed its previous decision and ruled that Worboys should remain in prison indefinitely.
Gauke said that the case had led to changes that would give victims more rights and powers. “This landmark reform will for the first time empower victims to hold the Parole Board to account for its decisions and help restore public confidence in the important work that it does,” he said.
Under the new system any request for a review will be sent to a dedicated team at HM Prison and Probation Service, which will consider whether there were serious mistakes or legal flaws in the release ruling. If the team believes the victims have a good case their challenge will then be considered by a named Parole Board judge who can either order the original panel to review its decision or order a fresh hearing under a new panel.
The move forms part of wholesale changes to the Parole Board process to be published by ministers this week. Already, following the Worboys case, the controversial Rule 25 blanket ban on disclosing information about the board’s decisions has been lifted, allowing victims to learn the reasons for a prisoner’s release.
Worboys’s victims were able to raise £10,000 through crowdfunding to pay for the judicial review. Government sources accept that theirs was a rare case and that most people would never be able to raise the money. When the high court decided in favour of the two unnamed victims, Nick Hardwick, chair of the Parole Board, was forced to resign after Gauke told him his position was “untenable”.