09:16, June 10 84 0 theguardian.com

2020-06-10 09:16:04
Charles Bronson wins first step in fight for public parole hearing

Charles Bronson, one of the UK’s most notorious prisoners, has won the first round in a battle to overturn a blanket ban on Parole Board hearings being held in public.

At a remote video hearing in the high court, lawyers for the 67-year-old argued that Ministry of Justice regulations preventing people hearing arguments about whether inmates should be released were illegal because they breached his right to a fair trial and started from the assumption that hearings should be in private.

Bronson, who was born Michael Peterson but changed his name to Charles Bronson and later to Charles Salvador, was jailed in 1974 for armed robbery of a post office and sentenced to seven years in prison. Because of his violent behaviour, he has remained in jail almost continuously and spent much of his time in solitary confinement.

The public furore in 2018 over the Parole Board’s initial decision to release the convicted serial sex attacker John Worboys forced changes in the way the outcome of hearings were subject to scrutiny. They did not, however, give the public or media the right to attend.

Bronson, who has a Parole Board hearing coming up to consider his case, wants the hearing to be in public to ensure there is open justice. The Ministry of Justice maintains the requirement for open justice is met because the Parole Board can permit observers to attend and will release a summary of any final decision.

But Matthew Stanbury, counsel for Bronson, told the high court in a preliminary application for permission to bring a legal challenge that Parole Board rules did not permit proceedings to be held in public. “In this case Mr Salvador has waived his privacy rights,” he said, “Whereas Mr Worboys did not want anyone to know about [his hearing].”

Stanbury accepted it would not be possible for groups of journalists to be admitted to HMP Woodhill, a category A prison, to attend a hearing physically but said the advent of remote video technology meant there was no practical reason why proceedings could not be livestreamed.

Stanbury told the court that the board’s rule 15 (3) states “an oral hearing … must be held in private”. He added: “It is a blanket ban on public hearings and is intended to be such.”

Jason Pobjoy, counsel for the Ministry of Justice, said the rules were intended to give prison governors a “broad discretion” in deciding whether to admit others to Parole Board hearings. “The open justice principle applies but does not mean that there’s a right to a full public hearing,” he added.

At the end of the high court hearing, the judge, Mr Justice Swift, ruled that there were arguable grounds for a full hearing of Bronson’s claim that the Parole Board rules offend the principle of open justice. A date for the trial of the issues has not been set.

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