Parole for ‘black cab rapist’ John Worboys overturned in victory for crowdfunded judicial review

Philippa Kaufmann QC (left) and Harriet Wistrich (centre) acted for victims in the judicial review. Rick Findler/PA Wire

In a landmark judicial review case, the High Court has quashed the decision of the Parole Board to allow the release of the “black cab rapist” John Worboys.

Worboys, who is now known as John Radford, was convicted in 2009 of 19 serious sexual offences, including rape, against 12 victims. He was sentenced to an indeterminate prison sentence due to the risk he posed to the public. At that time, the judge specified that he should serve a minimum of eight years.

In January, it emerged the Parole Board had agreed to release him. He will now remain in prison until another Parole Board hearing reviews his case.

The claimants, two unnamed victims of Worboys, could only challenge the parole decison by way of a judicial review. This process allows a person or group of persons to request that a court review the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body.

This was the first time that a decision to release a prisoner had been challenged in the courts. Previous cases had been brought only by prisoners appealing against decisions to deny parole. The case was also notable as the claimants underwrote their legal costs entirely through crowdfunded resources.

A police file shot of John Worboys. Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

‘Irrational’ behaviour

The court decided that the Parole Board behaved “irrationally” by not seeking more information, both for the offences for which Worboys was charged and for other potential offences. The board had in its possession information suggesting that Worboys may have committed crimes against more than 80 victims but failed to make any further inquiry into this.

In his evidence before the Parole Board, the High Court heard, Worboys had confined his acceptance of guilt to crimes against the 12 victims for which he had been convicted. The court felt that had the Parole Board sought the additional information available then this might have undermined the “credibility and reliability” of the “limited way in which he described his offending”.

This additional available information included references to separate proceedings brought by the claimants against the Metropolitan Police. At the time of the Parole Board hearing on December 26, 2017, a Court of Appeal ruling relating to that case was available. In February 2018, in the same case against the Metropolitan Police, the Supreme Court ruled that the claimants’ human rights were breached by the failure to conduct an effective investigation into their complaints against Worboys. An effective investigation is required by Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The ruling against the Parole Board will not be appealed but that does not mean that Worboys will stay in prison – this would be beyond the power of the High Court in a judicial review.

The court has sent the matter back to the Parole Board for fresh consideration before a panel made up of different members. When that takes place, it will be in different circumstances to the first parole hearing and so it’s possible the outcome could be different.

More transparency on parole

In a second part to its ruling, the court decided that rules preventing information about parole hearings from being made public breached principles of open justice, which require the public to receive information about court proceedings.

In a swift response, the justice secretary, David Gaulke, welcomed the ruling and announced that he would soon be abolishing the restriction – known as Rule 25 – on this. This could mean the Parole Board can make summaries of its decisions available to victims. He also said he would “bring forward proposals for Parole Board decisions to be challenged” without the need for judicial review.

The future Parole Board hearing in the Worboys case will also take place under the auspices of a new head after the departure of Nick Hardwick, who resigned on being told by Gaulke that his position was untenable. In his resignation letter, Hardwick acknowledged mistakes but was clearly reluctant to resign. He said:

I had no role in the decision of the panel in the case and believe I am capable of leading the Parole Board through the changes, many of which I have advocated, that will now be necessary.

This case demonstrates how important the process of judicial review is as a mechanism by which individuals can use the courts to challenge the decisions of government bodies. It reaffirms important constitutional principles such as open justice – even though in this case the access to justice was only made possible by crowdfunding sparked by public interest.