In assessing the risk a person represents to society, the Parole Board recognises the value of input from experienced members of the judiciary. Their skills support and provide legal backup for the decisions we make.
Judicial members are called upon to use their professional expertise in chairing oral hearings, giving directions to the parties involved and dealing with procedural issues at directions hearings, as well as assessing the risk posed to the public by the release of prisoners. They also assist in other board duties as required including keeping abreast of legislative changes and judicial decisions and contributing to procedural and policy discussions in relation to the work of the board.
Judicial members are required to be a circuit judge or a retired circuit judge. They also need authorisation for murder, or attempted murder, or rape cases or to have significant Mental Health Review Tribunal experience.
I was appointed a Circuit Judge in 2001 after 25 years as a barrister spent both prosecuting and defending in criminal cases. As part of my every day work I sentence offenders. The sentences I impose range from financial penalties to life imprisonment with everything else in between. I have to be aware of all sentencing options including community sentences and the consequences for both the offender and the victim. When sentencing, the offender’s personal circumstances and background are of course relevant, but when dealing with very serious offences it may be that these can be of little significance.
Before I joined the board I thought I had a fairly good idea of how prisons work but I have learnt far more since then. Both my normal job and the Parole Board job focus on how best to protect the public from harm and, if possible, how best to secure the rehabilitation of the offender. I have learned that whilst prison can often provide a constructive framework which offenders can positively benefit from, in some cases prison can provide little more than a means of ensuring that dangerous offenders are contained. None of the decisions that I or my colleagues at the Parole Board make is made lightly and we are all aware of the consequences that could flow from the premature release into the community of an offender who remains a potential danger.