Matthew Parris Matthew Parris

No, minister: the John Worboys case should stay closed

Hard cases make bad law. That’s why we must not challenge the John Worboys decision

Hard cases make bad law. The release on parole of the ‘black cab rapist’, John Worboys, is a hard case. But ministers should not be panicked into throwing open parole board decision–making to public inspection.

The police have blundered, the sentence was surely too lenient, and the failure to inform his victims was disgraceful. But it was not upon some careless whim that Parliament barred parole boards from giving reasons, and the new Justice Secretary, David Gauke, should think hard before reversing the interdiction.

Much of the furore provoked by the release of this serial attacker of women after ten years in prison really arises not from the parole board’s decision but the original sentence and the flawed prosecution process which helped produce it. Given Worboys’s conviction for only one rape, though there may have been scores more that the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service did not pursue, the indeterminate sentence with a minimum of eight years failed to reflect a terrible story, but judge and jury were not to know that; and once the sentence had been handed down it was inevitable that the parole board would be asked to consider release before Worboys was an old man and while memories of his atrocities were still relatively fresh.

And when the board did that it presumably based its decision partly on what had been proved in court, not on what arguably should have been proved in court. So we need to understand the circumstances in which the board found itself before we declare it obvious that its members should have taken a different decision. Not to have told Worboys’s victims of his impending release was an inexcusable administrative oversight; but this must be distinguished from the issue of whether parole boards’ decisions should be open to challenge.

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