An oral hearing is conducted usually by a two member panel who will in essence risk assess the prisoner to determine whether the prisoner is safe enough to be either transferred to open prison or released into the community. Should it be clear that a specialist member is required such as a psychologist/psychiatrist then the Board will sit as a three member panel.
“The circumstances in which an oral hearing would be necessary would often include (a) important facts are in dispute or where a significant explanation or mitigation was advanced which needed to be heard orally (b) where the board could not otherwise properly or fairly make an assessment on risk (c) where a face to face encounter with the board, or the questioning of those who had dealt with the prisoner, was necessary to put forward case effectively and test views (d) where it is unfair for a ‘paper’ decision to become final with allowing for an oral hearing.”
Osborn Booth and Reilly  1 All ER (amendments)
At the oral hearing a three member panel, one acting as chair, have the opportunity to question the prisoner and any witness that has come to support or oppose the prisoner’s application. The prisoner’s Offender Manager and Offender Supervisor (probation officers) will always attend the hearing as witnesses and will put forward their individual recommendations. Should an expert be instructed they will also be required to put forward their findings and recommendations to the panel.
The legal representative is given an opportunity to questions all witnesses at the table including the client. The client has the opportunity to remain silent throughout however it is usually beneficially for him/her to put forward his case and make the panel aware of any progression or development, which has taken place since his sentence. The client is always guided through the process of giving evidence in advance of the hearing. Finally, the legal representative will make closing submissions to the panel in respect of the client’s application in order to further persuade the panel to grant the application being considered.
After the hearing has taken place the panel will spend time reflecting and considering. The panel will come to a majority decision which they will then submit to the Secretary of State for further consideration. It is only with the agreement of both the parole board and the Secretary of State that the application is granted when they are considering open conditions.
If the Board directs release this is binding on the Secretary of State. The client is informed, through our legal representatives, within a period of two weeks.
Oral hearing decisions may be appealed by one of our legal representatives by way of judicial review. For example, we are currently seeking a judicial review in respect of an oral hearing because it was conducted in a manner adverse to procedural fairness.
Unfortunately, due to legal aid constraints, we are no longer able to represent clients under legal aid for pre-tariff reviews; however we can assist on a private basis. A pre-tariff review can often be a difficult application to advance to the Parole Board because the Board have to consider whether the prisoner has completed sufficient risk reduction work in custody to have sufficiently reduced the risk they pose. We opposed the removal of legal aid for such applications and strongly believe these should have remained within the scope of legal aid.