A prisoner who has been sentenced to imprisonment or consecutive imprisonment is to be eligible for remission of sentence not exceeding a quarter of the term.
A prisoner who has engaged in authorised structured activity may apply to the Minister for enhanced remission. The application should be made, not earlier than six months prior to the date the prisoner would be released, if enhanced remission of a third were granted.
The Minister, on receipt of the application, if satisfied, that the prisoner is less likely to reoffend and better able to reintegrate into the community, notify the prisoner of his decision regards enhanced remission and the period of enhanced remission that is to apply.Notice is to be given in writing and a copy is to be given to the Governor.
The Minister shall on making a decision in respect of an application and have regard to:
- the manner and extent to which the prisoner has engaged constructively in authorised structured activity;
- the manner and the extent to which the prisoner has taken steps to address his or her offending behaviour;
- the nature and gravity of the offence;
- the sentence of imprisonment imposed and recommendations of the court in imposing sentence;
- the period served;
- potential threat to the safety and security of the public, including in particular the victim, in the event of release;
- any offence which the prisoner was convicted before being convicted;
- the conduct of the prisoner in custody;
- recommendations of the Garda Síochána, Governor and Probation Service and any other person appointed by the Minister.
Enhanced remission refers to remission greater than a quarter but not exceeding a third.
The Parole Act confers responsibility for granting parole upon an independent statutory body (supported by a small secretariat or staff). Before that the parole system operated at the discretion of the Minister for Justice under the auspices of the temporary release provisions of section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1960, as amended by the Criminal Justice (Temporary Release of Prisoners) Act 2003.
A parole board was established on a non-statutory basis to advise the Minister as to the suitability for temporary release/parole of such persons as the Minister referred to the board.The Board tended to be referred cases with prisoners who had served half their sentence or seven years, subject to certain excluded categories. Temporary release could be and frequently was granted on terms outside of the parole board’s remit. The parole board mads recommendations to the Minister in respect of persons serving sentences of a duration within its remit.
This Parole Act 2019 does not replace the temporary release provisions, but places the concept of parole on a clearer statutory footing under the remit of an independent expert body. It does not affect
- the power of the Minister to give a direction that a person be released from prison for a temporary period under section 2 of the Act of 1960,
- the power to commute or remit a punishment under section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act 1951 , or
- rules or practice whereby prisoners generally may earn remission of sentences by industry or good conduct,
- or anything done under those sections or rules, or in accordance with that practice, as the case may be, whether prior to or after the commencement of this section.
This Act does not apply to qualifying prisoners within the meaning of the Criminal Justice (Release of Prisoners) Act 1998 pursant to the Belfast Agreement .
The Parole Board
The Parole Act provides that a Parole Board will be established. It establishes the Board as a statutory body to perform the functions assigned to it. It also provides that the Board will be independent in the performance of its functions.
The Board will convene panels to:
- consider persons for parole and, if appropriate, direct that such persons be released on parole and subject to such conditions as may be specified pursuant to parole order;
- require, if appropriate, that persons released on parole be subject to periodic monitoring of compliance with parole conditions;
- consider and determine, as necessary, whether conditions in parole orders should be varied and/or discharged;
- consider and determine, as necessary, whether parole orders should be suspended or revoked;
- issue warrants for the purposes of apprehending and returning to custody persons the subject of parole orders where there are grounds justifying the suspension or revocation of the parole order;
- make periodic reports to the Minister upon the operation of its functions;
- to develop policies on how to discharge its functions;
- to maintain a register of Board decisions;
- to keep statistical and other records relating to its work;
- to provide information that is readily accessible to offenders, victims, and the general public about matters relating to release from detention on parole and the policies and operation of the Board generally.
There is periodic annual reporting to the Minister to be laid before the Oireachtas whenever the Minister may direct. The Board may also publish other reports on matters related to its activities and functions, as it considers relevant and appropriate.
The Board will consist of 15 members who will be appointed by the Minister on the nomination of various representative bodies and will include a psychiatrist; a psychologist; a representative of the Irish prison service; a Garda representative; a probation or welfare officer; a nominee of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and such other persons appearing to the Minister to have knowledge and experience of the supervision or aftercare of discharged prisoners or to have made a study of the causes of delinquency or the treatment of offenders.
The Minister shall endeavour to ensure an equitable gender and ethnic balance in the composition of the Board reflective of the community at large, and not less than 4 members shall be female and not less than 4 members shall be male.
The Board will be chaired by a current or former judge of the Circuit Court or a higher court nominated by the Chief Justice. The Board will also include four panel convenors who will be either current or retired district or circuit court judges, solicitors, or barristers appointed through a competitive selection process coordinated by the Public Appointments Service
The Minister should be satisfied a prospective member has:
- knowledge or understanding of the criminal justice system; and
- the ability to make a balanced and reasonable assessment of the risk an offender may present to the community when released from detention; and
- the ability to operate effectively with people from a range of cultures.
The primary function of the chairperson is to ensure that the Board carries out its functions in an efficient and effective manner, but his or her functions shall also include allocating members, including panel convenors to undertake reviews or hearings. In so doing, the Chairperson shall endeavour to ensure the diverse skills and experiences of the different members of the Board are appropriately represented on any panel.
The chairperson may sit as a member, including as a panel convenor, at any panel review or hearing. In the case of the absence or inability to act of the chairperson, the other members of the Board present at that meeting shall elect one of their number to act as chairperson of that meeting.
The Parole Act defines the role of panel convenors, of which there are four on the Board.
The functions of a panel convenor at a hearing or review are:
- to preside at the hearing; and
- to determine any matters of procedure that may arise during or in relation to the hearing; and
- to sign the decision of the panel at that hearing.
Panel convenors are also responsible for convening further reviews or hearings for the purposes of such matters as monitoring compliance with and, variation, suspension or revocation of, a parole order. Panel convenors are also responsible for supervising preparation for a review or hearing.
Panel convenors are required to be persons who have held office as a District or Circuit Court judge or a barrister or solicitor with 9 years’ experience. These qualifications are considered prudent to ensure that fair procedures are appropriately upheld. Nevertheless, the chairperson may appoint any member as an acting panel convenor in respect of a particular hearing.
The chairperson may act as a panel convenor for the purposes of a sitting; and for that purpose the chairperson has all the functions and powers of a panel convenor.
The Board will not directly employ staff; a minimum of 5 staff will be assigned or seconded to the Board from the Department of Justice, with the consent of the Board and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Alternatively, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform may assign or second other staff to the Board, with its consent.
Provision is made to enable the Board to perform its functions, subject to certain reserved functions, through or by any member of staff of the Board.
The Board shall sit as panels for the purposes of discharging its duties and functions. A decision by a panel constitutes a decision of the Board. Panel decisions shall be determined by a majority of the votes of the members at a review or hearing. The section further provides that a decision of the Board on the grant or refusal of parole, or on the variation or revocation of a parole order, must be in writing and include reasons for the decision.
A panel shall conduct reviews or hearings for the purposes of discharging specified functions under the Act. Panels shall ordinarily discharge their functions by conducting a review, save where provided, but shall also have a discretion to conduct a hearing in respect of any matter.
A parole panel may schedule an interview with any person being considered for parole.
Panels may commission reports or procure expert evidence for reviews/ hearings, including from the Governor, the Irish Prison service, the probation service, An Garda Síochána, or a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Reports may concerns the following matters:
- the conduct of the parole candidate to date;
- the risk of a parole candidate re-offending;
- the risk of a parole candidate failing to comply with any conditions attaching to a parole order;
- the likelihood of a parole candidate presenting other serious risk to the community;
- the likelihood that parole may accelerate the parole candidate’s reintegration into society or improve his or her prospects of obtaining employment;
- such other matter as a panel deems necessary to consider a person for parole. The reasonable costs of any such reports shall be paid by the Board.
A parole panel shall have the power to determine the venue and time at which any review or hearing may take place and may take into account such security and public safety factors as it deems fit.
A parole panel may conduct a hearing as it thinks appropriate and shall have powers to determine who may attend; who may speak; to impose limits on what a person may talk about and for how long; to require any person to leave the hearing, either temporarily or for the remainder of the hearing; to adjourn the hearing.
A hearing shall be run in such manner as the panel deems fit and may involve oral evidence. A decision by a panel conducting a hearing shall be in writing and shall include reasons and a copy shall be provided to the parole candidate to whom it relates, the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service and the Minister.
For the purposes of a hearing, a person whose parole is being considered is entitled to appear and make oral submissions to a panel; and attend while any other person is making submissions, provided that the person whose parole is being considered may not be present at the hearing when any victim is present unless the victim, the person whose parole is being considered, and the Board agree. A person is also entitled to be represented by a solicitor and, with the leave of the panel, by counsel and to present a person to speak on behalf of his/her character.
Persons can be directed in writing to appear or produce evidence to a parole panel and failure to comply with a direction will constitute an offence punishable by a fine of €1,500 or 6 months imprisonment. The reasonable expenses of witnesses directed to attend before a parole panel shall be paid by the Board.
The Board may receive written submissions from any victim of the person whose parole is being considered and, if considered necessary, allow any such victim to appear and make oral submissions at a hearing for the purpose of assisting the Board to reach a decision; and allow for the representation of any such victim by solicitor and/or counsel.
A panel may make interim orders in the discharge of its functions where necessary. Various documents produced for hearings and reviews will be privileged and members of the Board shall enjoy immunity unless shown to be acting in bad faith.
A review involves a documentary consideration of such information, documents, memoranda of interview, physical evidence and written submissions as the panel shall think fit, but shall not involve oral testimony or oral representations.
A decision by a panel conducting a review shall be in writing and shall include reasons, and a copy shall be provided to the parole candidate to whom it relates, the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service and the Minister.
Any parole candidate dissatisfied with the decision of a review shall be entitled to a hearing, if requested in writing within 14 days of the communication of the decision of a review.Where the decision by a panel is to decline to make a parole order in respect of a person, the decision shall specify a date at which the person will be next considered for parole, not later than 2 years from the date of the decision so declining parole.
Where the decision by a panel is to decline to make a parole order in respect of a person, a future parole consideration date shall be schedule not less than 2 years from the date of refusal.