Where will the hearing be held?
The hearing will be held in a designated room in the prison that the prisoner is in unless the panel chairman and the parties agree otherwise.
Record of hearing
Note: all hearings are recorded. Although the panel may grant permission for notes to be taken by the parties, the Rules forbid information about the proceedings or the names of any persons concerned from being made public.
A room will be available for the prisoner and his/her representative and any witnesses to be called on the prisoner’s behalf to consult in. A separate room will be available for the Prison Service’s representative and his witnesses. When the hearing is ready to begin, the prisoner will be escorted into the hearing room.
Lifer, Indeterminate Custodial Sentence (ICS) cases and Extended Custodial Sentence (ECS) cases
The panel is made up of three Commissioners. The chairman is usually a legally qualified Commissioner and one of the other members is normally a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Determinate Custodial Sentence cases
The panel is usually made up of two Commissioners. The chairman will be legally qualified.
The function of the panel is to consider suitability for release. Each of the panel members is entitled to an equal voice on questions of law, procedure and substance. The panel will try to keep the proceedings as informal as possible.
The Oral Hearing Clerk is a member of the Commissioners’ Secretariat and is responsible for administrative duties during the hearing. The Oral Hearing Clerk will also operate the recording equipment.
The Department of Justice may be represented by a barrister or a solicitor from the Departmental Solicitor’s Office. A prison governor may be in attendance but is not usually there to give evidence about the prisoner. The Governor may be asked general questions about the management of prisoners.
The Prisoner’s representative is the person he/she has chosen to represent him/her at the hearing.
Please note that although there will be lawyer(s) present as far as possible the hearing will be held in a way that is easily understood by all parties using ordinary language.
Witnesses are people called by either the prisoner or the Prison Service to give evidence at the hearing. In keeping with the informality of the hearing, witnesses are not required to give evidence on oath.
Observers are people granted permission by the chairman of the panel to attend the hearing but do not have an active part in the process. These could include other Commissioners, but only the panel members will play a role in the discussions of the panel during and after the hearing.
The Layout of the Room
The panel will usually sit facing the prisoner, his/her representative and the Prison Service’s representative, if in attendance. The Oral Hearing Clerk will sit to one side of the panel and the witnesses will sit on the opposite side while giving evidence. Besides the prisoner and his/her representative and whoever is representing the Prison Service, and unless the chairman of the panel directs otherwise, only expert and professionally qualified witnesses or public servants who are there to give evidence can expect to be present during the entire hearing.
The Purpose of the Oral Hearing
The panel’s task is to consider suitability for release. The hearing lets the panel examine all the relevant information in depth, including the prisoner’s views and the views of the Prison Service. From time to time the chairman of the panel or panel members may raise particular issues in which they are interested or ask the prisoner questions. The prisoner should do his/her best to answer them.
Where the Prison Service makes any allegation of fact against the prisoner which he/she disputes it will be up to the Prison Service to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that that fact is true.
Please note that if the prisoner is to be released before his/her custodial sentence is completed the panel must be satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public from serious harm that he/she stay in prison. Serious harm has been defined by law as being “death or serious personal injury, whether physical or psychological”.
It must be clear that the risk of a prisoner committing serious harm if released on licence is no more than minimal.
Confidentiality of the Oral Hearing
The hearing will be held in private and those present must not subsequently make public any information about the proceedings or the names of any of those taking part.
The Order of Proceedings
It is important to remember that the panel has discretion as to how the hearing is conducted but the following guidance sets out what would normally be expected. The prisoner, his/her representative or the Prison Service’s representative may also make application to the panel during the hearing if they want to change the order of proceedings.
The panel will try to keep the proceedings as informal as possible. The chairman will direct his or her opening remarks to the prisoner, introduce all the participants and outline how the hearing will proceed. (The prisoner may be asked whether he/she objects to the presence of any observer and, if so, why).
At the beginning of the hearing the chairman of the panel may indicate what the panel regards as the important issues in the case.
The chairman may ask the Prison Service’s representative to give the Prison Service's view on what the outcome of the case should be. The chairman may also ask the prisoner or his/her representative to state what decision and/or recommendation the prisoner will be asking the panel to make. This should be a short statement of fact.
The chairman will then ask the Prison Service’s representative to call his or her witnesses. The witnesses will usually be asked questions in the following order:
- by the Prison Service’s representative;
- by the prisoner or his/her representative;
- by each panel member in turn.
The chairman may, however, decide that panel members may ask questions before the witness is questioned by the Prison Service’s representative or the prisoner or his/her representative. If so, this will be intended to focus the questioning on what the panel regards as the important issues in the case.
Once all the Prison Service's witnesses have been heard, the prisoner or his/her representative will be asked to call their witnesses. This time, the order in which the witnesses will be asked questions will be as follows:
- by the prisoner's representative;
- by the Prison Service’s representative;
- by each panel member in turn.
The prisoner will have an opportunity to speak on his/her own behalf if he/she wishes. He/She may be asked questions by his/her own representative, the Prison Service’s representative and by members of the panel. It is important that the prisoner try to answer all questions put to him/her, including those from the panel.
Once all the evidence has been heard, the chairman may ask the Prison Service’s representative to make a closing statement.
The prisoner or his/her representative will be asked to make a closing statement.
Finally, the chairman will explain that when the panel reaches its decision it will be sent in writing to the prisoner within seven days, unless the chairman has extended the time. A copy of the decision will also be sent to the prisoner’s representative, and to the Prison Service.