Notorious prisoner Charles Bronson makes bid for public parole hearing

Reforms which came into force on Thursday mean parole hearings could take place in public for the first time.

21 July 2022

Notorious prisoner Charles Bronson has become the first person to formally ask for a public Parole Board hearing after rules were changed in a bid to remove the secrecy behind the process.

Reforms which came into force on Thursday mean parole hearings could take place in public for the first time.

This will allow case reviews – which determine if an inmate should be freed from jail or stay behind bars – to be opened up to victims and the press.

The prisoners in question, Government ministers and officials are also among those who can request the case is not discussed behind closed doors.

Bronson, one of the UK’s longest serving prisoners who has since changed his name to Salvador, was widely expected to request his latest parole hearing was heard in public, having previously said he wanted his to be the first to take place.

The Parole Board confirmed on Thursday a request for Bronson’s case to be heard in public has been received and will now be considered.

It is understood the application was made on his behalf.

A date has not yet been set for his next parole review, although it is thought this may take place later this year or early in 2023.

It is not known how long it will take for the Parole Board to decide whether the hearing can be held in public.

The number of hearings where the overhaul of procedures applies may be limited at first as the criteria requires them to remain private unless parole bosses deem it is in the “interest of justice” to open up the sessions.

In deciding whether to grant a public hearing, the board’s chairman could consider factors including the wishes of victims and their families as well as any “undue emotional stress” this could have on prisoners.

Separate rule changes introduced at the same time have stripped officials of their ability to give views or make recommendations to the Parole Board on whether prisoners they work with are suitable for release or transfer to open prison.

Instead the Justice Secretary will pick cases where they want to make recommendation on release, having sought advice from officials.

This is known as providing a “single view” representing the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) position. Officials will provide factual information such as details of offending and risk management plans which present an “evidence-based assessment of the risk the prisoner presents”.

A Parole Board spokeswoman said: “The new Parole Board rules make it possible for parole hearings to be held in public for the first time in some cases where it is in the interest of justice to do so.

“It is important to state that the normal position will be for parole hearings to remain in private to ensure that witnesses are able to give their best evidence and that victims are not put in a position that could lead to re-traumatisation.”

There must be a “good reason to justify a departure from the general rule”, the board said.

Charles Bronson (PA)
Charles Bronson (PA)

All parties involved in the case will be invited to give their view on whether the hearing should be in public.

The board may also look at whether parts of the hearing should remain private so sensitive evidence can be given.

Factors which may be found relevant to consider when deciding whether a hearing warrants being heard in public include when there are unusual circumstances which set the case apart from others or if this may enable better understanding and debate about the parole system.

The distress an open hearing could cause to victims and relatives will also be taken into account, as will any “risks of undue emotional stress to the prisoner”, the Parole Board said.

Plans to give victims the right to observe full Parole Board hearings without them being held in public are also being tested.

A pilot with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is starting in England and Wales before it is set to be rolled out nationwide.

At present victims can ask to read a statement in person but are not allowed to hear the rest of the evidence presented, and journalists may observe hearings in rare circumstances but cannot report their contents.

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