In Depth

Dominic Raab’s ‘power of veto’ for dangerous criminals explained

Ministers want to be in charge of changing release dates of the most high-risk offenders

Dominic Raab wants the government to have the power to veto parole board decisions in a crackdown on the release of dangerous criminals. 

The justice secretary is due to announce a “root-and-branch” review of the parole system, which will include plans that could allow him to overrule the parole board “in the most high-profile and sensitive cases involving murder, rape, terrorism and ‘those who have caused or allowed the death of a child’”, reported The Telegraph

It will be the “biggest shake-up” of the board in its 54-year history and is designed to prevent repeats of scandals including the release of double-child murderer Colin Pitchfork, and an abandoned decision to free black-cab rapist John Worboys, said the paper. 

Up to 100 criminals could be prevented from being released under the plans. Officials will sift through “more than 600 cases” a year where the parole board has recommended release in order to identify cases that could be reviewed by the justice minister who could then veto the decision and keep offenders locked up. 

The move will restore powers to block the release of high-risk criminals, once held by ministers, but which were removed after legal challenges in Europe and the UK found that allowing politicians rather than judges to determine sentence lengths breached the human rights of prisoners. 

Raab is hoping the review will allow the justice department to “focus on protecting the public – rather than the rights of offenders – by offering more prescriptive guidance on when prisoners should be freed”, wrote The Independent

“Keeping the public safe is Government’s first duty, and the British people expect us to keep dangerous criminals behind bars for as long as necessary to protect them. I am not satisfied our approach is as robust as it needs to be, which is why I’ll be setting out plans to restore public confidence in the system,” the justice minister added.  

Victims will also be given the right to attend parole hearings in full for the first time, “as set out in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto”, noted Sky News. The parole board will also be required to take into account submissions made by victims, and they will be allowed to ask questions in the submissions. 

Legal challenges likely

Raab is likely to face legal challenges to his plans, however, as a senior judicial source fears the state will be “acting not only as prosecutor but also as judge and jury”.

Ministers have taken legal advice and are “confident” that they will be able to see off court appeals to block the new powers from coming into force, reported The Telegraph. But a legal source has warned that handing powers to politicians to take a role in the sentencing could threaten the independence of the judiciary. 

“We will end up in a position where the Crown Prosecution Service is going to be prosecuting someone but they want to make sure they have someone on the jury to reach the verdict they want to get,” said the source.

“It interferes with the independence of the judiciary. It will need primary legislation and I don’t know how that would tackle the issue of [the state] effectively wanting to be judge, jury and executioner”.

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