All the dates and timings are set out in the Notice of Referral letter and the prisoner should be clear about what they have to do. If they are unsure about any aspect of the process, he/she should ask their case manager or representative.
An outline of the different stages in the process after the prisoner's 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 prisoner's Notice of Referral letter and, where it applies, the Notice of Hearing letter.
From the date of the prisoner's Notice of Referral the next steps are as follows:
Within 2 weeks of the date of the Notice of Referral if the prisoner intends to appoint someone to act as their representative he/she must provide the Commissioners with the details of that person. The prisoner should use form PCNI 1 for this purpose, a copy of which can be found in the prisoner guide.
If the prisoner wants a solicitor to act on their 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 the prisoner does choose any person serving a sentence of imprisonment or a person who has been released from prison on licence the prisoner must get the approval of the Chief Commissioner before they can act for him/her.
The Commissioners encourage the prisoner 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 their behalf.
If the prisoner prefers not to be represented, he/she will be offered an interview with a Commissioner who will not be dealing with the case. The interview will only proceed if the prisoner agrees to it. The purpose of the interview is to give the prisoner the opportunity to discuss their case with a Commissioner and mention anything that he/she wants considered. The Commissioner may also ask the prisoner 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 the Commissioner(s) dealing with the case will also receive a copy, as will the Prison Service.
Within 6 weeks of the date of the Notice of Referral the Prison Service will provide the prisoner, their representative and the Commissioners with a copy of the “dossier”. The dossier should contain all the information relevant to the prisoner's suitability for release including the following:
- An outline of the offence(s) for which the sentence was imposed
- A list of any previous convictions, sentences, licences, periods of temporary release and release / recall history
- Comments of the Judge when passing sentence, if available
- The result of any appeal against his/her sentence
- Any pre-trial and/or pre-sentence probation reports
- Any police report on the circumstances of the offence(s)
- If the prisoner has been subject to a transfer direction under Article 53 of the Mental Health (NI) Order 1986, any relevant report on him/her
- Any current reports on the prisoner's performance and behaviour in prison, including:
- 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 his/her health, including mental health;
- psychology reports;
- assessment of the likelihood of the prisoner re-offending and the risk of him/her being a danger to the public if released;
- assessment of suitability for release on licence and licence conditions.
The Probation Board should also provide an up to date report on the following:
- the prisoner's home address, family circumstances and the support available to him/her in the community from family or others;
- alternative options if the prisoner 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 on the offence(s);
- the prisoner's response to previous periods of supervision;
- the prisoner's behaviour during temporary release during the current sentence;
- the prisoner's attitude to the prospect of release and the requirements and objectives of supervision;
- an assessment of the likelihood of the prisoner re-offending and the risk of serious harm;
- a programme of supervision, should he/she be released;
- a view on his/her suitability for release; and
- recommendations regarding any special licence conditions.
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 the Prison Service thinks are relevant to the prisoner's suitability for release.
The Prison Service will also forward a copy of the dossier to the Commissioners’ office. The single Commissioner will also be provided with a copy of the recommendations that were made at the time of the prisoner's pre-tariff review, if applicable.
After the single Commissioner dealing with the prisoner's 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 your representative.
The prisoner will need to consider all of this information and the reports carefully and, if they have a representative, should discuss all of these documents carefully with him/her.
Within 10 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 the prisoner wants to make about their case including comments on anything that is contained within the dossier.
Documentary evidence would include anything that anyone who knows the prisoner or about their case can say of their own personal knowledge about the risk of serious harm he/she might pose if they were released. It would also include any expert evidence the prisoner wishes the Commissioner(s) to consider.
The prisoner may, if they wish, use form PCNI 2 which can be found in the forms section of the prisoner guide. His/her representations and documentary evidence must be forwarded to the Commissioners office and copied to the Prison Service by the prisoner or their 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 their representative about preparing their 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 be heard by a panel
If the provisional direction is for release or there is a direction that the prisoner's case will be considered by a panel, he/she will receive a Notice of Hearing letter which will set out the next steps in the process and advise the prisoner of the date, time and location of the hearing. The oral hearing should take place no later than eight weeks following the date of the provisional direction. If the prisoner does not wish to attend the hearing they must inform the Commissioner’s office within two weeks. The prisoner may, if they wish, use form PCNI 3 which can be found in the forms section of the prisoner guide.
Provisional direction not to release
If the single Commissioner provisionally directs that the prisoner is not to be released and he/she does not wish their case to be considered by a panel, the provisional direction will become final after two weeks.
If the prisoner does wish their case to be heard by a panel of three Commissioners he/she must inform the Commissioner’s office within 2 weeks. He/she must also advise the Commissioner’s office if they intend to attend an oral hearing in their case. The prisoner may, if they wish, use form PCNI 3 which can be found in the forms section of the prisoner guide.
The prisoner will then receive a Notice of Hearing letter which will set out the next steps in the process and will advise him/her of the date, time and location of the hearing.
If the prisoner wants to call any witnesses at the hearing they must make a written application to the Commissioners, within the specified time period, setting out the name, address and occupation of those witnesses and a full statement of the evidence that they are to give. The prisoner can, if they wish, use form PCNI 4 which can be found in the forms section of the prisoner guide.
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.
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. Their 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, they 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. The prisoner and their representative must ensure that the witnesses who they want to give evidence at the hearing are available on the date of the hearing. 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 they wish 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 their representative wishes to make any submissions on any point of law at the hearing, he/she or their representative must notify the Commissioners’ office, in writing, at least one week from the date of the 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 their 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. The prisoner should speak to their solicitor for advice on these matters.
Failure to comply with these requirements may result in the hearing of the prisoner's case being delayed or adjourned.