The Justice Secretary has pledged to ‘enforce public safety’ by drawing up plans to overhaul the parole system.
Dominic Raab said the case for reforming the process was “clear and established” as he proposed taking back power so ministers could prevent the release of dangerous criminals.
The upheaval comes after public outcry over the decision to release double child killer Colin Pitchfork and rapist of London taxi driver John Worboys from prison.
Worboys’ release was later officially overturned after the case was considered by a new panel, while Pitchfork was recalled to prison for breaching license terms in November.
Mr Raab also said on Wednesday that he planned to appeal the decision of the Parole Board which recommends that the mother of Baby P, who died after months of abuse, be released from prison.
Outlining his review of the parole system, Mr Raab told MPs: ‘Our reforms will ensure that offenders who pose the highest risk to public safety are vetted more rigorously with additional ministerial oversight.
“Protecting the public is the government‘s top priority. The proposals in this review will enhance public safety.
He added: “Following the review we have conducted and published today, I believe the case for reform is clear and established.”
Mr Raab said he believed ‘the focus on this critical decision-making has strayed from its original moorings’, adding: ‘So this government will anchor the decision-making of the Liberation Commission conditional on the cardinal principle of protecting the public.
“With regard to the assessment of risk to victims and public safety, we will introduce a precautionary principle to strengthen public confidence in the system and in cases involving those who have committed the most serious crimes, we will introduce ministerial control over release decisions. exercised by the Secretary of State for Justice.
“The package of reforms released today will reinforce the focus on protecting the public at every stage.”
Offenders who face life sentences, indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public, extended sentences and certain recall cases are all subject to the parole process, which means that their release must be ordered by the parole board.
Proposed reforms could see ministers override the Parole Board when it comes to the release of dangerous criminals from prison, aiming to focus on protecting the public rather than the rights of offenders.
These may include cases of murder, rape, terrorism and causing or permitting the death of a child.
The move could leave the government open to legal challenges, but it is understood Mr Raab is confident that separate plans to review human rights laws will counter any claims.
The Justice Secretary, other ministers and senior officials expect to review around 100 cases a year of these so-called “high profile” offenders for whom the parole board has recommended their release.
In 2020/21, the Parole Board released 4,289 prisoners and refused to release 12,154.
Of those released, it is estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 criminals serving life sentences could fall into the “upper tier” category, raising questions about the criteria that will be used to decide which most dangerous offenders requiring ministerial supervision and how all cases will be subject to personal review.
Mr Raab told MPs in the same 20/21 period that 27 offenders had been charged with another serious offense after being ordered released by the Parole Board, adding: ‘It is fair to say this is only a fraction of all cases, but it is still once every fortnight that a released offender commits a serious offense while under supervision.
Victims should also be given the right to attend full parole hearings for the first time, in a nod to the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto.
The Parole Board will now be required to consider submissions made by victims and they will be allowed to ask questions.
The new rules could also see more police officers and others with “law enforcement experience” recruited to sit on parole board decision-making panels.
Mr Raab said it was ‘striking’ that since last year only 5% of all parole board committee members have come from a law enforcement background, saying to MPs that he thought it was a “significant deficit”.
Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed said: “It is crucial that the protection of the public is paramount and that victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system.
“Currently, too many victims feel that their perspective is not sufficiently considered, whether in parole decisions or sentencing, which leads directly to public safety concerns. which need to be taken more seriously.”
The parole board said it would review the proposals and respond in due course. Ahead of the announcement, a spokesperson said the body would like to see the system become “more transparent and operate more efficiently to ensure a better process for everyone involved, while protecting the public remains the number one priority.” .