Law Or Justice: A Question Of Priorities?

“Some of the decisions we make are subject to ill-informed criticism – but how could it be otherwise when we do not provide information about why we made a decision? If all the media have to go on are lurid accounts of a crime many years ago, and do not hear how a man or woman had changed or how their risk can be managed, we cannot complain if they do not understand the decision we have made.”

Professor Nick Hardwick
November 2017

On January 4 2018, the planned release of rapist John Worboys made national news, leading to a roar of condemnation.

Worboys, one of Britain’s most prolific rapists, was convicted of 19 offences (including one rape and five sexual assaults) and ordered to serve a minimum of eight years in prison. It is claimed that he is responsible for scores of other rapes and sexual assaults.

At the initial trial the judge said, Worboys would be released only if a parole board decided he was no longer a threat to women. After a hearing in November 2017, and after ten years in custody, the Parole Board decided to approve his release with “stringent” licence conditions.

There has been an outcry that a) the victims were poorly served in the initial case with many allegations not investigated by the CPS/Police and b) only those victims who asked to be informed were contacted (and not even all of them received a notification).

The announcement of Worboys release has led many to look at the decision itself, the wider Parole process and argue that it is time for a change in the current system.

New Justice Secretary David Gauke is looking into how successful a judicial review could be – the only way the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys can be overturned.

However, is it too easy to put this at the feet of the Parole Board alone? If the criminal justice system is a series of linked services could the blame be equally applied across others in the system? C) Finally, are the victims finally being heard in this process?

Some are unhappy with the lack of transparency of the parole process, which is something the Parole Board itself has concerns over. In a speech given last November to mark the Parole Board’s 50th anniversary, the chair, Professor Nick Hardwick said:

“I also recognise that public bodies of all types are rightly expected to be more open and transparent and in these circumstances the Parole Board is lagging behind in way that is difficult to defend.”

In fact, the Parole Board have been pushing for a change in the law to make the process more transparent and even allow the public to attend Board Hearings.

But this has been drowned out in the chorus of criticism that the Parole Board has received, as has the fact that it takes a change in the law by the Govt to allow the Parole Board to make its decisions public.

Instead the picture being painted through the media is that the Govt is pressuring Parole Board to come out of the shadows and be transparent, which is rather disingenuous.

At several stages, in this case the victims of Worboys have been poorly treated by the criminal justice system.

It has been reported that the police did not initially consider some of the victims to be reliable. Other allegations were partially investigated but did not end in charges. The fact that they were presenting as drunk, having been given spiked drinks by Worboys, weighed against the victims and as well saying their attacker was a black cab driver, something not thought believable.

All the more shocking was that during his trial it emerged that police in Plumstead, south east London, had arrested and bailed Worboys in July 2007 over an attack on a 19-year-old student.

Fourteen of the sentences he was convicted of took place after he was released.

A subsequent Independent Police Complaints Commission found serious errors of judgement had been made by a number of police officers

The real debate then might not be whether the Parole Board is transparent but to what degree the victim has a voice, the opportunity to be heard and what weight the opinion of the victim has in the criminal justice system.

If they opted into victim contact scheme, under Victims’ Code of Practice, they had right to be informed, to offer a victim impact statement and to offer their views on licence conditions. If that’s not happened, then Probation (they are responsible for the Victim Contact Scheme not the Parole Board) have breached code.

But as London Victims’ Cmsr stated in a tweet it does not have any teeth:

“Unfortunately the code currently holds no weight, so breach is meaningless but impact on the victim is not.”

Senior peer and Victims Commissioner Baroness Newlove argued the system for keeping victims informed needed to be “radically reformed”.

Unfortunately, it is well reported that the Probation Service after the Transforming Rehabilitation programme has seen a drop in the efficiency and effectiveness of the Service; it is understandable how an overworked and under-resourced Service did not contact all the victims. This still does not bode well for the future.

In fact, many of the bodies which supports the victims of crime are charities. This says a lot about the priorities of criminal justice.

Finally, is the law designed to protect their public at large or the victim of a specific crime? I would hope both but if the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, the law has to be detached and dispassionate whereas the victims are the opposite.

Worboys was dealt within the rule of law. At each step of the case, the various bodies can say that they acted within the tenets of the law.

However, the media onslaught has been about the perceived lack of justice for the victims of the cases.

The law has to protect all but the victims of a crime seek justice.

It is great that the Parole Board will finally become more transparent, but the question is does our legal system service justice or the law?

In a way, isn’t this what this issue is all about?