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Fair for the Future Update - March 2015

Update on the Parole Board's Fair for the Future project in response to the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Osborn, Booth and Reilly.

Update on the Fair for the Future project

Background

The Supreme Court judgment in the case of Osborn, Booth and Reilly handed down in October 2013 has wide-reaching implications for the Parole Board. The judgment fundamentally changes the way the Parole Board needs to view the concept of an oral hearing and significantly broadens the circumstances in which the law requires it to hold one. The judgment was based primarily on common law principles of fairness.

The most important points are:

  • the Board’s policy and practice in respect of oral hearings has had to change
  • there will now have to be many more oral hearings than in the past
  • most prisoners who wish to have an oral hearing are likely to be able to argue that their cases fall within the illustrations or comments in the judgment
  • if in any doubt, the Board should hold an oral hearing
  • fairness to the prisoner in the individual case is the overriding factor
  • the Board can no longer decline an oral hearing merely because it’s unlikely to make any difference
  • the Board must not be tempted to refuse an oral hearing in order to save time, trouble or expense

The judgment resulted in far more oral hearings being granted across the whole caseload referred to the Board, and therefore a review of the case management of all cases was needed.

Responding to the Judgment

A project was established in order to understand the impact of the judgment and the changes needed in order to ensure that all prisoners could still be provided with a fair and timely review. The existing processes were not able to accommodate the increase in work and therefore the development and implementation of a new case management model for all cases was required. This work superseded some of the work that had begun under the End-to-End Review programme designed to improve the process by reducing deferrals.

The Fair for the Future project was set up in November 2013. The objective of the project was to design and implement an efficient case management model which enabled the Board to accommodate the increase in oral hearings within agreed resources and allowed members to continue to make fair and right decisions. The new model would need to be supported effectively by the Secretariat and would need to be flexible and robust enough to meet the challenges of future changes in legislation and policy with greater resilience.

Stakeholder Engagement and Consultation in the Design Phase

A series of 10 workshops involving Parole Board members and staff, together with NOMS representatives provided ideas at the start of the review and informed the redesign of the model. An emerging model was then presented to Parole Board members at a number of regional events early in 2014.

The Parole Board also engaged with representatives from prisons, probation, the Public Protection Casework Section (PPCS), Probation Chiefs Association (PCA) and Association of Prison Lawyers (APL) to gather their experiences, views and suggestions. A questionnaire was issued to prisoners via Inside Time newspaper.

Operations staff held several workshops where they reviewed a number of options for developing greater flexibility. They trialed several team structures involving multi-skilled and support teams. The final structure is currently being finalised.

Testing and Piloting

Throughout the spring and summer of 2014, several pilots were undertaken to test and evaluate various aspects of the emerging model. This included two pilots at prisons (HMP Frankland and HMP Ford) which tested listing in shorter timeframes, hearing more cases per day and minimising the additional Directions and witnesses requested. There were also two pilots of the proposed approach to the initial review of cases on the papers. These tested whether all case types could be channeled through one system and how a proportionate approach, based on the needs and complexity of each case could be applied to deciding how to conclude each case. Additional measures were introduced to test other initiatives to support the changes, for example the digital recording of parole oral hearings.

One of the key challenges was to significantly increase the number of reviews concluded in a fair and timely manner. Around 500 cases were being listed a month towards the end of 2013. Additional staff were recruited and changes in process and practice resulted in the Parole Board listing between 700 and 750 cases per month by the end of the year. This included listing in a different way and allocating cases to Secretariat case managers to achieve better workload balances.

Communication

Members were kept informed of developments through five progress reports issued at key stages of the project, as well as a mid-project review report published in June 2014.

Stakeholders were kept informed via the website, the Boardsheet newsletter and the Parole Board User Group and were offered the opportunity to submit comments and ideas on any issues or challenges they currently faced.

Implementation of new Case Management Model

Implementation of Member Case Assessment (MCA) commenced on 1 December 2014 and the Operations Team began the transitional phase of closing down existing paper casework systems. MCA provides an early and thorough analysis of the relevant issues in each case. This will enable the Parole Board to take a more flexible and proportionate approach to concluding the case in a fair and timely manner. This should enable the Board to make better use of resources and reduce avoidable deferrals and delays. Analysis of early MCA cases indicates that members are applying the new approach and are taking a more flexible approach to the numbers of members and time required for oral hearings.

MCA is replacing all existing paper panel processes including Intensive Case Management (ICM) and Single Member Recall Panels. MCA is being phased in gradually and old and new systems will run concurrently until the end of February 2015. By then, over 150 members will have been trained in MCA practice.

Draft guidance has been developed for Parole Board members and this is a working document. It will be revised and updated to take account of learning from early stages of implementation. The final version of the guidance will be formally published in March 2015. The draft guidance is available on the website.

Next Steps

Current activity is focused on developing new templates (for issuing decisions or directions) and new functionality on our electronic case management system PPUD are updated to effectively support the new process. This work should be completed by the end of March 2015.

An MCA response form has also been introduced which provides a formal route for either party (the Secretary of State or the prisoner and his or her Legal Representative) to submit representations related to oral hearing directions.

Once MCA implementation has been completed, the next phase will focus on listing cases more quickly and flexibly and explore the potential for more regional working. A pilot is already underway to maximise listing capacity by adding a third case to some panels or filing gaps in the listing schedule to minimise the number of panels proceeding with a single case. This phase of the project overlaps with initiatives under a new programme to reduce deferrals and the backlog.

The latest draft of the MCA Guidance can be found here:

MCA Guidance (MS Word Document, 784KB)