All the dates and timings are set out in the Notice of Referral letter. The Commissioners will try to arrange for the case to be heard as soon as possible. Depending on the particular circumstances of the case, the amount of time it takes to deal with it may differ from that of someone else.
An outline of the different stages in the process after the case has been referred to the Commissioners is set out below. Please remember that the actual dates by which each step must be completed will be included in the Notice of Referral letter.
From the date of the Notice of Referral the next steps are as follows:
Within 3 weeks if the prisoner intends to appoint someone to act as his/her representative he/she must provide the Commissioners with the details of that person. He/she should use form PCNI 1 for this purpose, a copy of which can be found in the forms section of the relevant prisoner guide.
If the prisoner wants a solicitor to act on his/her behalf, he/she may be entitled to Legal Aid. He/she may of course choose to be represented by someone else, but please note that if he/she chooses any person serving a sentence of imprisonment or a person who has been released from prison on licence he/she must get the approval of the Chief Commissioner before they can act for him/her.
The Commissioners encourage prisoners to be represented but, if he/she does not appoint a representative, an eligible person may, with the prisoner’s agreement, be appointed by the Commissioners to act on his/her behalf. Please note that the Parole Commissioners are not liable for legal aid expenses.
If the prisoner prefers not to be represented, he/she will be offered an interview with a Commissioner who will not otherwise be involved in the case. The interview will only proceed if the prisoner agrees to it. The purpose of the interview is to give him/her the opportunity to discuss his/her case with a Commissioner and mention anything that he/she wants considered. The Commissioner may also ask him/her questions about matters that the Commissioner(s) dealing with the case might wish to consider. After the interview, the Commissioner will prepare a report. The prisoner will be sent a copy and given the opportunity to amend or add any comments to it. The Commissioner(s) dealing with the case will also receive a copy, as will the Prison Service once the report has been agreed.
Within 8 weeks of the date of the Notice of Referral the Prison Service will provide the prisoner, his/her representative and the Commissioners with a copy of the “dossier”. The dossier should contain all the information relevant to the consideration of his/her suitability for release including the following:
Information relating to the prisoner –
- the full name of the prisoner and date of birth
- the prison or place of detention in which the prisoner the detained and details of other prisoner or places of detention in which the prisoner has been detained, including the date and reasons for transfer.
- the date the prisoner was sentenced and the details of the offence(s) in question, including information as to whether a certificate was issued by the Attorney General to deschedule any offence(s) in question or as to whether the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland did not issue a certificate for non-jury trial.
- where applicable, the previous convictions, sentence, licences, periods of temporary release from prison and the release and recall history of the prisoner.
- the comments, if available, of the trial judge in passing sentence on the prisoner including an comments on licence conditions.
- where applicable, the conclusions of the Court of Appeal in respect of any appeal by the prisoner, the Attorney general or the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland against conviction or sentence.
- where applicable, the particulars of and documents relating to any previous applications bu the prisoner in respect of the case.
Reports relating to the prisoner:-
- any pre-trial or pre-sentence reports examined by the sentencing court and any police report on the circumstances of the offence(s).
- any report on the prisoner while he was subject to a transfer direction under Article 53 of the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986(a).
- any current reports on the prisoner’s performance and behavior in prisoner, where relevant, (reports previously examined by the Commissioners need only be summarized), including any:
- prison reports;
- record of offences against discipline;
- reports on any temporary release;
- details of, and reports on compliance with, any sentence management plan;
- report on health, including mental health;
- psychology reports;
- assessment of the likelihood of re-offending and the risk of being a danger to the public if released immediately; or
- assessment of suitability for release on licence and licence conditions.
An up-to-date report prepared for the Commissioners by a probation officer, including any reports on the following:
- the prisoner's home address, family circumstances and family attitudes towards the prisoner;
- alternative options if he/she cannot go home;
- opportunities for employment on release;
- local community attitudes towards the prisoner (if known);
- attitudes and concerns of the victim(s) (if known);
- the prisoner’s views of the index offence(s);
- any other information which the Department of Justice considers relevant to the case and wishes to draw the attemtiom of the Commissioners.
If the prisoner has been interviewed by a Commissioner not related to the case, his / her report will also be included. The dossier will normally contain all the information and reports that are relevant to the suitability for release.
Prisoners who have had a pre-tariff review will also be provided with a copy of the recommendations that were made at the time of the review.
After the single Commissioner dealing with the case has read the dossier, he or she may feel that further information is required. Any additional information that is produced will also be provided to the prisoner and his/her representative.
The prisoner will need to consider all of this information and the reports carefully and, if he/she has a representative, discuss all of these documents carefully with him/her.
Within 14 weeks of the date of the Notice of Referral the prisoner must submit any representations and documentary evidence on which he/she intends to rely to the Commissioners and provide a copy to the Prison Service. Representations are any comments that he/she wants to make about his/her case including comments on anything that is contained within the dossier.
Documentary evidence would include anything that anyone who knows the prisoner or about his/her case can say of their own personal knowledge about the risk of serious harm he/she might pose if he/she were released. It would also include any expert evidence the prisoner may wish the Commissioner(s) to consider.
The prisoner may, if he/she wishes, use form PCNI 2 which can be found in the forms section of the relevant prisoner guide for this purpose. The representations and documentary evidence must be forwarded to the Commissioners office and copied to the Prison Service by the prisoner or his/her representative. These will be given to the single Commissioner who will look at them along with all the information provided in the dossier. The prisoner can seek advice from his/her representative about preparing his/her representations and documentary evidence.
When the single Commissioner has considered the case, the prisoner will receive a copy of the decision which will include the reasons for it.
Provisional direction for release/direction to refer to panel
If the provisional direction is for release or there is a direction that the prisoner's case will be referred to panel, the prisoner will receive a Notice of Hearing letter which will set out the next steps in the process and advise him/her of the date, time and location of the hearing. The oral hearing shall take place no later than eight weeks following the date of the provisional direction. If the prisoner does not wish to attend the hearing he/she must informt he Commissioner's office within two weeks. The prisoner may, if he/she wishes, use form PCNI 3 which can be found in the forms section of the relevant prisoner guide for this purpose
Provisional direction not to release
If the single Commissioner provisionally directs that the prisoner is not to be released and the prisoner does not wish his/her case to be considered by a panel, the provisional direction will become final after two weeks. It is important to note that once the provisional direction has become final, it cannot be reversed.
If the prisoner does wish for their case to be heard by a panel of Commissioners then the following process will apply.
Within 2 weeks of the single Commissioner’s provisional direction being received the prisoner must inform the Commissioner's office that he/she wished his/her case to be heard by a panel. He/she must also advise the Commissioner's office if he/she intends to attend an oral hearing of the case. The prisoner may, if he/she wishes, use form PCNI 3 which can be found in the forms sections of the relevant prisoner guide to do this.
The prisoner will then receive a Notice of Hearing letter which will set out the next steps in the process and advise him/her of the date, time and location of the hearing. Te oral hearing shall take place no later than 8 weeks follopwing the date of notification that hearing is required.
If the prisoner wants to call any witnesses at the hearing he/she must make a written application to the Commissioners at this time setting out the name, address and occupation of those witnesses and a statement of the evidence that they are to give. The prisoner can, if he/she wishes, use form PCNI 4 which can be found in the forms section of the relevant prisoner guide to do this.
The Prison Service must also submit a written application containing the same things to the Commissioners at this time in respect of any witnesses they want to have at the hearing and they must send a copy of this to the prisoner and his/her representative.
The prisoner may also apply to the Commissioners, in writing, to be accompanied at the hearing by, for example, a family member, a friend, or a minister of religion. The application must include the reason why he/she wants this person to be there and include their name, address and occupation. If the prisoner wishes, he/she can use the same form as for witnesses. The Prison Service also has a right to apply for people not directly involved to be present at the hearing.
The chairman of the panel will decide whether or not to grant these applications within one week and will give reasons in writing for the decision if any application is refused.
Unless the parties have consented to a shorter period, the parties will be given at least two weeks notice of the date, time and place that has been set for the oral hearing. The prisoner and his/her representative must ensure that the witnesses who he/she wants to give evidence at the hearing are available on that date. They should, if possible, be available for the whole day. It is the responsibility of those calling witnesses to arrange for their attendance.
If the prisoner has any further documentation that he/she wishes to have considered by the panel, he/she must submit an application, in writing, to the Commissioners’ office in good time for the hearing. The chairman of the panel will decide whether this information can be submitted.
If the prisoner or his/her representative wish to make any submissions on any point of law at the hearing, the prisoner or his/her representative must notify the Commissioners’ office, in writing, at least one week prior to the date of hearing.
The notification should include a summary of the point(s) of law to be raised and should also include a list of any legal precedents, upon which the prisoner or his/her representative proposes to rely, together with their citation. If possible, photocopies of such precedents should accompany the notification and, in any event, a sufficient number of photocopies of precedents must be available at the hearing for use by the panel and the representative of the Prison Service. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in the hearing of the case being delayed or adjourned.