Some parole hearings could be heard in public, the government has announced. This represents a significant shift in policy, as all parole hearings are currently held in private.

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Parole hearings – what’s changing?

Until now, all parole hearings have been heard in private. However, following a consultation, the government has been persuaded to open up certain hearings and allow public access. Legislative changes are expected in the coming months.

Explaining the decision, the government said: “the blanket ban…on public hearings is unnecessary”, adding that “victims, offenders, the media or the wider public should have the right to make a request for a public hearing, and to have that request considered”.

Will all parole hearings now be public?

No, not all parole hearings will be made accessible to the public.

If a parole hearing is to be made public, someone must make an application first. This might be the victim, the offender or the media. The Parole Board will then decide whether to grant this request. Alternatively, the Parole Board may choose to make a hearing public, if it is in the public’s interest.

It remains to be seen what the decision-making criteria will be. Ultimately, the Parole Board must decide what is in the ‘interests of justice’. The Board may consider factors such as:

  • If it would assist public understanding of how a decision is reached in a case of public interest
  • Whether the prisoner and the victim (if there is one) object to the hearing being heard in public
  • Whether a public hearing would create an unacceptable risk to any of the participants, whether mental or physical
  • Whether the integrity of evidence could be compromised

Where an open hearing is allowed, it is likely that the attendants will be invited to join by video link. This will minimise disruption, increase capacity and allow victims to easily step away, should they want to.

As with all court hearings, observers will not be permitted to intervene, ask questions of the witnesses or address the panel in any way, unless invited to do so.

Do I get a say?

If there are calls to make a parole hearing public, both the victim and the prisoner will be invited to submit their views. The Parole Board will take these views into consideration, although the final decision is theirs.

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