Periodically reviewing life sentences by the Parole Board is a process required by law and such reviews, known as Tribunals, are intended to assess the current level of risk presented by life-sentence prisoners at the expiry of Tariff point of their sentence; Tariffs are the minimum length of time trial judges specify a lifer should spend in prison to satisfy the interests of retribution and punishment. Once the tariff point has been reached or exceeded by the lifer then the Parole Board has a legal duty to review and make an informed decision on the lifer’s continued imprisonment.
The review process itself, known as an ‘Oral Hearing’, at which the lifer is present, is conducted like a semi-judicial hearing where reports by social workers, prison staff and psychologists are considered and assessed, and the lifer is given the opportunity to present their own case for release. It is from these hearings, or Tribunals, that the critically important decisions are made about the lifer’s future, especially the one regarding whether to release or not. It would be absolutely wrong, as well as unlawful, if a decision regarding release was made BEFORE the ‘Oral Hearing’ had taken place and the paper work regarding that decision was written up to convey the impression that the decision had been made following such a hearing. In the case of a lifer called Malcolm Legget there exists indisputable evidence that such an unlawful practice took place and its discovery was purely by accident and incompetence on the part of the Parole Board.
On the 6 February 2012 a parole hearing took place at Shotts prison in Scotland to consider the case for release of Malcolm Legget who has been in jail since 1986. During the hearing Mr Legget asked that a prison-based psychologist, Sharron McAllister, be produced as a witness at the hearing to explain what Mr Legget claimed were significant inaccuracies in her report regarding him. The panel agreed to Mr Legget’s request and the hearing was adjourned for a period of six months.
On the 21 February the Parole Board for Scotland wrote to Mr Legget saying the panel had made a definite decision regarding his continued imprisonment and had decided not to direct his release. It claimed the reason for its decision was that it still considered Mr Legget a risk to the community. Understandably, Mr Legget was concerned and confused by what appeared to be a final decision of the Parole Board when in fact his hearing had been adjourned and not yet concluded. Then on the 24 February Mr Legget received a second letter from the Parole Board informing him that the information in the previous letter had been what it called ‘an error’. Mr Legget is convinced that in fact the letter from the Parole Board of the 21 February was a pre-prepared decision made before the hearing on the 6 February and the real ‘error’ was that it was delivered to Mr Legget before the definitive conclusion of his hearing.
If Mr Legget’s suspicion is true, and the letter from the board on the 21 February suggest it is, then it indicates a serious and unlawful abuse of Parole Board procedure and power, and the rubber-stamping of the continued imprisonment of life sentence prisoners without proper procedure.
It also constitutes a clear breach of human rights under Article 5 which states that, “Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful”. This clearly stipulates that a proper, legally-based hearing should take place to sanction the prisoner’s detention, and in the case of the lifer the parole hearing is constituted to consider the continued detention, or not, of the life sentence prisoner who has reached or exceeded the time stipulated he should remain in jail. The so-called Oral Hearing is the forum where reports and evidence is considered by the panel, which is usually composed of a judge or legally qualified person, and a psychologist and senior probation officer or criminologist. It is from the evidence presented at these hearings, conducted in the presence of the lifer, that the final decision to release or detain is made. The letter Malcolm Legget received from the Parole Board on the 21 February would suggest that a decision to continue detaining Mr Legget was made in private and before the Oral Hearing itself. Clearly, if this did happen then ether a unique and unlawful precedent was created, or the rubber-stamping in private of the continued detention of life sentence prisoners is an established practice and the Parole Board is operating on an unlawful basis.