On appeal from: [2010] EWCA Civ 1409; [2011] NICA 6

These appeals concerned the circumstances in which the Parole Board is required to hold an oral hearing. The appellants are prisoners who had been refused release from custody or transfer to open prison conditions in decisions made on the papers.

The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeals, declaring that in failing to offer the appellants oral hearings the Board had breached both its common law duty of fairness to them and ECHR, art 5(4).

Guidance was given on compliance with the common law standards of fairness in this context. The Board should hold an oral hearing whenever fairness to the prisoner requires one in the light of the facts of the case and the importance of what is at stake. These circumstances could include cases where important facts are in dispute, where an oral hearing is needed to properly make an assessment of risk, or where a face to face encounter is necessary for the prisoner to put their views across effectively. The purpose of the oral hearing is not only to assist with the Board’s decision-making, but also to enable the prisoner to participate in a procedure with important implications for them.

Lord Reed emphasised that human rights protection is not a distinct area of law based on the jurisprudence of the ECtHR, but permeates our legal system. Compliance with art 5(4) requires compliance with relevant rules of domestic law.

For judgment, please download: [2013] UKSC 61
For Court’s press summary, please download: Court’s Press Summary
For a non-PDF version of the judgment, please visit: BAILII