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Plenary Minutes 2005

MINUTES OF THE PLENARY MEETING OF THE SENTENCE REVIEW COMMISSIONERS HELD ON THURSDAY 3 MARCH 2005

Commissioners:

Sir John Blelloch

Mr Brian Currin

Mr Ian Dunbar

Ms Clodach McGrory

Dr Adrian Grounds

Dr Duncan Morrow

Mr Donal McFerran

 

Apologies:

Dr Peter Curran

Mrs Mary Gilpin

Dr Silvia Casale

Secretariat

Mr Brian McCready

Mrs Sheena McKittrick

•  The minutes of the meeting of 16 September 2004 were agreed, subject to a few minor amendments.

•  Commissioners heard details of the current caseload and were advised that prior to the meeting a panel had sat and given a preliminary indication in a high-profile case. The panel had decided that they were minded to refuse the application because, on the basis of the available information, they could not say the applicant would not be a danger to the public. It was expected that the applicant would challenge this indication.

•  Commissioners also heard about the recent oral hearing at which the Secretary of State's representative put forward an argument that caused the panel to overturn the Commissioners agreed policy to periodically look again at applications made by prisoners previously refused release on grounds of danger to the public.

•  The policy had been made on the basis of legal advice received by Commissioners that they may regard the passage of time in itself as a sufficient "change of circumstances" to review a case in accordance with Rule 9(2). However, the Secretary of State's representative successfully argued that this was a matter of jurisdiction and that if Commissioners tried to enlarge their jurisdiction then they would be acting ultra vires. The panel decided they had no choice but to dismiss the application and their decision had not been challenged

•  After careful consideration of the Secretary of State's representative's argument and the panel's rationale for taking its decision, Commissioners agreed that their policy should be changed to reflect the decision of the panel. Prisoners who had previously been told that their cases would be regularly reviewed would have to be advised of this policy change and the consequences it would have for them.

•  The working group set up to review the existing Legal Aid procedure and a review of fees for counsel at oral hearings, had met with members of the Legal Services Commission and had produced a draft revised guidance note. The text of the new note was agreed subject to one amendment.

•  Commissioners had been previously received draft copies of their Annual Report and were asked to submit any proposed changes to the text to the Secretariat by the end of March.

•  The date of the next meeting was confirmed as Wednesday 8 June 2005.

Secretariat

4 April 2005

MINUTES OF THE PLENARY MEETING OF THE SENTENCE REVIEW COMMISSIONERS HELD ON WEDNESDAY 14 SEPTEMBER 2005

Commissioners:

Sir John Blelloch

Mr Brian Currin

 

Dr Silvia Casale

Mrs Mary Gilpin

 

Dr Peter Curran

Mr Donal McFerran

Mr Ian Dunbar Ms Clodach McGrory
 

Apologies:

Dr Adrian Grounds

 

 
     

Secretariat

Mr Brian McCready

Mrs Sheena McKittrick

 

  1. The minutes of the meeting of 3 March 2005 were agreed, subject to one minor amendment.
  2. The inquest had begun into the death of a former applicant and Commissioners were told that the Coroner had already agreed to provide them with a copy of the inquest findings.
  3. The Commissioners' Annual Report had been laid before Parliament in July and Commissioners agreed that the shortened format had been a success.
  4. Commissioners were informed of a recent case where, between the conclusion of the oral hearing and the issuing of a substantive determination, the applicant had been arrested on different charges arising from his suspected involvement in an incident which predated his recall. The Secretary of State had subsequently provided information regarding these charges in the expectation that this would be taken into account by the panel in its deliberations. The panel raised its concerns regarding the procedure in this case for discussion in general terms. In particular, as the applicant had been re-arrested and charged so shortly after the conclusion of the oral hearing, it seemed that there was information about potentially significant matters within the domain of the Secretary of State that had not been put before the panel at the time of the oral hearing. The panel found this highly unsatisfactory. The Commissioners agreed that the issue of process arising from this case would be taken up with the Secretary of State by the Joint Chairmen.
  5. Commissioners were also informed that in a recent recall case the Secretary of State had provided no evidence against the applicant. Therefore the panel had no choice but to confirm the licence. They did not find this process satisfactory but noted that the case had been processed exactly in accordance with the provisions of the legislation.
  6. In one other case, Commissioners heard that the panel hoped to be in a position to hold the hearing around the date of the next plenary meeting.
  7. Commissioners discussed two recent judgements from the House of Lords in the cases of McClean v Sentence Review Commissioners and Roberts v Parole Board both of which made it clear that the issue of public safety was paramount and cast out any doubt as to where the benefit of the doubt should be given in borderline cases.
  8. Commissioners had been concerned that the guidance given to the Special Advocate dealing with cases in which the Secretary of State had submitted information certified as “damaging” under Rule 22 expressly prohibited him from consulting with the prisoner after he had seen the information. This prohibition did not exist in other tribunals' proceedings and as the House of Lords had stated in the aforementioned judgements that, when using a Special Advocate, a tribunal should do its best to minimise the dilution of the prisoner's rights as much as possible Commissioners agreed their procedures should reflect this. Commissioners were firmly of the view that in future the Special Advocate should be able to apply to the Commissioners to consult again after disclosure. Any such request would have to be specific and, if permission were given, the Special Advocate would be bound by the Rules not to reveal any of the information to the prisoner. The Commissioners would rely on the Secretariat to contact the Attorney General's Office forthwith and ask that consideration be given to amending the guidelines issued to Special Advocates to reflect this change.
  9. Commissioners were told that the UVF and Red Hand Commandos had been respecified by the Secretary of State following the recent Loyalist feud and riots, but that it would have no real impact except for possible recalls.
  10. As regards recalls, Commissioners noted that under the provisions of the Act, they had a duty to consider the cases of recalled prisoners. The issue was whether they could proceed to do so without first having received an application from the prisoner. Although the wording in the legislation is problematic, they agreed that they could not, but that if after a year the prisoner had not responded to their invitation to apply for release, a final letter should be issued advising that the Commissioners assumed he did not want to proceed and that they would take no further action on his case.
  11. The next meeting was confirmed for 11.00am on Wednesday 7 December 2005.

20 September 2005