Guidance

Represent yourself at a parole review oral hearing

How to represent yourself at a parole review hearing, for prisoners on indeterminate sentence who don't have a lawyer.

You can choose to represent yourself at a Parole Board oral hearing, instead of appointing a lawyer. This guide explains what you should do at each stage of the parole review process.

Who can represent or support you

You can choose to have someone else at the hearing to represent or support you. Anyone can represent you except for someone who:

  • is detained or liable to be detained under the Mental Health Act

  • is in prison

  • is on licence having been released from prison

  • hasn’t served their prison sentence for a conviction

You could ask a friend, family member, prison visitor or chaplain to represent you or give you advice and support. If you ask a family member or friend, check that they will be allowed into the prison.

You could also contact the Prisoners’ Advice Service:

Email: advice@prisonersadvice.org.uk
Phone: 020 7253 3323 or 0845 430 8923

Prisoners' Advice Service
PO Box 46199
London
EC1M 4XA

If you’re aged 21 or under you can also contact the Howard League for Penal Reform helpline:

Phone: 0808 801 0308

The parole review process

You’ll get a letter telling you that your parole review has begun. You need to fill in the ‘prisoner’s reply form’ which comes with the letter. It’s important to say on the form that you want your case to be heard at an oral hearing and why.

You’ll normally get the letter 6 months before your case is due for review.

The prison will then begin to compile a dossier of information about you for the Parole Board. This will include:

  • reports written by prison and probation staff

  • details of your previous sentencing

  • remarks made by the judge when you were sentenced

Your dossier may also include prison security reports and relevant information from healthcare staff (eg your psychologist).

The dossier should be ready 8 weeks after you got the letter telling you about your review. At that stage you can read all the documents.

You should then write to the Parole Board saying why you think you should be released or transferred to open conditions. This is known as a ‘written representation’, and is your chance to tell them about what you’ve done in prison and if any information in the dossier is wrong.

Bear in mind the following things that the Parole Board will consider when making its decision.

How the Parole Board makes a decision

The Parole Board will assess the risk you would pose to the public if you were released from prison or transferred to open conditions.

The panel will consider:

  • what you’ve done in prison to reduce that risk

  • what you’ve done to change the attitudes and behaviour that led to your offences (eg if you’ve taken an anger management course)

  • your awareness of how your behaviour has affected the victims of your crimes

  • your behaviour and progress in prison

  • if there are any medical, psychiatric or psychological considerations in your case

If your review is to decide whether you can be released from prison, the panel will also consider:

  • your attitude to licence conditions and if you’re likely to comply with them

  • plans for your release and supervision in the community

To decide if you can be transferred from a closed prison to open conditions, the panel will take into account whether:

  • they can be sure the public won’t be harmed if you’re in the community, unsupervised, on a temporary release from the open prison

  • you’re likely to keep to any licence conditions when you’re on temporary release

  • you’re likely to abscond from the open prison

The preliminary decision

A member of the Parole Board will consider your case 3 months before your case is due for review. They will look at all the papers in the dossier and your written representation.

The Parole Board member will either decide whether:

  • you should stay in prison
  • your case needs an oral hearing

If they decide on an oral hearing, they will include ‘directions’. Directions are a list of witnesses and extra information that the member feels are needed to make sure you have a fair hearing.

If you’re told that you should stay in prison, you have a month to write to the Parole Board and ask for an oral hearing. Give the reasons why you think you should have one.

The directions

If your case goes to an oral hearing, you’ll get a copy of the directions (the list of witnesses and extra information needed for the hearing). Read them carefully and ask a member of prison staff or a friend to explain them if you don’t understand them.

If you want the Parole Board to make any other directions (eg you might want to ask for another witness or for permission for a family member to observe the hearing) you should ask them in writing.

The Parole Board will confirm the date for the oral hearing 2 months before your case is due for review.

Preparing for the oral hearing

To get ready for the hearing:

  1. Read through the dossier that the prison has prepared.

  2. Think about what the panel is likely to ask you. Bear in mind the things the panel has to consider when making its decisions, including how they assess the risk that you would pose to the public if you were released.

  3. Think about the main points you want to make to the panel and plan any questions you want to ask witnesses. The panel chair will make sure that you are given the chance to ask questions.

  4. Ask a friend, adviser or the Parole Board if you need help to present your case effectively, eg if you need an interpreter or you have a learning disability.

Who attends the hearing

The hearing will be attended by:

  • you - the prisoner

  • your representative - if you have one

  • the panel - usually 3 members of the Parole Board, with 1 acting as the chair

  • witnesses - eg your offender manager, a prison officer, psychologist or a prison chaplain

There may also be an observer - someone allowed to observe the hearing but not take part in it.

You can say if you don’t want any observers to attend. The panel will make the final decision.

Sometimes, the victim of your crime or their family may want to come to the hearing and read out a personal statement. This usually happens at the start of a hearing, and they leave straight afterwards.

You don’t have to be there when they read their statement if you don’t want to. Your wishes will be taken into account.

What happens at the hearing

At the start of the hearing, the panel chair will introduce everyone and explain what will happen. Ask them to explain anything you don’t understand.

They will then call you and the witnesses one by one to give evidence. You don’t have to give evidence if you don’t want to, but remember that the panel needs to be convinced that you’re suitable for release or a transfer to open conditions.

The panel will ask you and your witnesses questions, to fill in any gaps in the evidence or to investigate issues in more detail. You will also be able to question the witnesses.

Once everyone has given evidence, the panel will usually ask if you want to make any final comments before you leave.

The decision

The panel will carefully consider all the information in the dossier and the evidence shared at the hearing and make its decision.

You’ll get a copy of the panel’s decision within 2 weeks. The letter will explain the reasons for the decision.

If you are unhappy with the decision

There is no legal right of appeal to a Parole Board decision. If you think the decision or hearing was flawed, you may be able to challenge the decision by Judicial Review. You are strongly advised to seek legal advice about this.

Judicial Reviews must be brought within 3 months of a decision. A Judicial Review is an application to the High Court to quash a decision made by a public body on the basis that it is unreasonable, unfair or irrational. Literally, a member of the judiciary reviews the decision and decides whether it was lawfully made.

If you think you have a case for Judicial Review, before applying to the High Court, write a “pre-action” letter to the Parole Board’s legal adviser setting out why you think the decision was unlawful:

Legal Adviser
Parole Board for England and Wales
52 Queen Anne's Gate
London
SW1H 9AG

The Parole Board will then consider if your case should be considered by a new panel.

Secretary of State directions

The Parole Board must follow these directions when considering life sentence prisoners for transfer to open conditions.

Secretary of State’s directions to the Parole Board, August 2004

Parole Board Rules

When conducting parole reviews, the Parole Board follows the Parole Board Rules made by the Secretary of State.

The current version of the rules is the Parole Board Rules 2011, which came into force on 3 January 2012.

The Parole Board Rules 2004 and the amended 2009 version have been revoked.

Parole Board Rules 2011

Published 30 July 2014