THE Minister for Justice, Heather Humphreys TD, has today announced the establishment of the new Parole Board and the commencement of the Parole Act.
The purpose of the Act is to place the parole process on a statutory footing, and establish an independent, statutory Parole Board to decide on parole applications.
The Act sets out clear and transparent criteria for how the Board will reach its decisions, which will be independent of the Minister of the day.
Following the commencement of the Act on July 30, the time which must be served by a life-sentence prisoner before being considered for parole has now increased to 12 years, compared to the previous 7 years.
The average sentence served in the last ten years before a life sentenced prisoner is released on parole is 18 years, and in 2019 it was 20 years.
July 31 was designated as establishment day for the new Parole Board, and the announcement by Minister Humphreys follows a promise by Minister Helen McEntee that the Government would establish the new Parole Board and commence the Act by July.
The establishment of the Parole Board on a statutory footing is a priority action under Justice Plan 2021 and is a key commitment in the Programme for Government.
Announcing the establishment of the new Board, Minister Humphreys said:
“The Parole Board plays a vital role in the justice system. Transparency and accountability is vital in achieving fairness for victims of crime and rehabilitation for the prisoners. I believe that the new independent Parole Board will considerably improve the system as it currently operates.
The change to the length of a life sentence which must be served, from seven years to 12 years, before an initial parole hearing is a recognition that the previous period was distressing for victims. I believe the new period of 12 year is a positive change.
I am also glad that the new Board includes members who have significant experience of working with victims as well as prisoners.”
Earlier this year, The Hon. Mr Justice Michael White was nominated by the Chief Justice as the inaugural Chair of the Parole Board. A further 9 Board members were appointed following their nomination by specified nominating bodies and specified post holders as set out in Section 10 of the Act.
Speaking about his new role as Chairperson of the statutory Parole Board, Mr Justice White said:
“I am honoured to be the inaugural Chairperson of the statutory Parole Board. The legislation underpinning the Board’s functions is excellent and I look forward to working with my fellow Board members to implement it. I would like to thank all of the legislators involved in developing the Parole Act 2019 and all of those who have worked towards the establishment of this new organisation.”
Following a Public Appointments Service (State Boards) selection process, the Minister recently decided to appoint Ms. Ann Reade, Mr. Paddy Richardson and Mr. Kieran Kenny, bringing the total Board membership to 13 (including the Chairperson).
An interim Chief Executive of the Parole Board has been appointed, pending the appointment of a full time Chief Executive. The post was recently advertised by the Public Appointments Service.
The Parole Act also sets out clearly how decisions on granting, revoking and varying parole orders will be made.
Parole can only be granted if the Board is satisfied that the prisoner does not pose an undue risk to the public, that he or she has been rehabilitated, and that it is appropriate in all the circumstances to release him or her on parole.
Victims of crime will be able to make submissions to the Board if they wish and may, under the Act, receive legal assistance in this regard.
Speaking about an upcoming consultation with victims groups the Minister said:
“The Parole Board will shortly be writing to national organisations and groups that represent and support victims of crime in the State, in order to provide them with some information in respect of the commencement of the Parole Act 2019 and other relevant and related matters.”
The Government has supported this commitment with funding allocated for the Parole Board for 2021 of €1.3m, which is more than double previous allocations. The Minister concluded:
“The additional funding provided to the Board demonstrates a clear commitment on the part of the Government to the successful implementation of this new legislation. The new Board can avail of this increased level of resourcing as it begins to implement the Parole Act 2019 in the months ahead.”