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 the prisoner is unsure about any aspect of the process, he/she should ask their case manager or representative.
The Commissioner will try to decide the prisoner's case as quickly as possible. However, he/she should be aware that, depending on the particular circumstances of his/her case, the amount of time it takes to deal with it may differ from that of someone else whose case the prisoner may think is similar to their own.
An outline of the stages in the process from the date of the Notice of Referral 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. From the date the Notice of Referral the next steps will be as follows:
Within 2 weeks if the prisoner intends to appoint someone to act as their representative he/she must provide the Commissioners’ office 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 forms section of 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 his/her 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 his/her 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 dealing with the case might wish to consider. After the interview, the Commissioner will prepare a report and send it to the Commissioner dealing with the prisoner's case and provide a copy to the prisoner and the ORU.
Within 6 weeks the ORU 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 prisoner's recall and suitability for release, and may include 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 the prisoner's 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 the prisoner
- 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 the prisoner's 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 the prisoner's 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 his/her 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 the prisoner be released;
- a view on the prisoner's suitability for release; and
- recommendations regarding any special licence conditions.
After the Commissioner dealing with the prisoner's case has read the dossier, he or she may feel that further information is required and may direct the production of the same. Any additional information that is produced will also be copied 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, should discuss all of these documents carefully with them.
Within four weeks of receiving the dossier the prisoner must submit any representations and documentary evidence that he/she would like the Commissioner to consider to the Commissioners’ office and provide a copy to the ORU. Representations are any comments that the prisoner 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 the his/her case can say of their own personal knowledge about the risk of harm the prisoner might pose if they were released. It would also include any expert evidence the prisoner may wish the Commissioner dealing with the case to consider.
The prisoner may, if he/she wishes, use form PCNI 2 which can be found in the forms section of the prisoner guide. The prisoner's representations and documentary evidence must be forwarded to the Commissioners’ office and copied to the ORU by the prisoner or his/her representative. They will be given to the Commissioner dealing with the prisoner's case who will look at them along with all the information provided in the dossier. The prisoner can seek advice from their representative about preparing his/her representations and documentary evidence.
When the Commissioner has considered the case, the prisoner will receive a copy of the decision which will include the reasons for it.