I promised my many readers that I would not get dragged into the debate on John Worboys and his impending release. Those who have had their say, and they are as thick as bugs on a bumper, have made informed, but mostly uninformed, contributions to the case, and there is little else to be said.
However, my contribution comes from the perspective of the sentencing judge and the evidence on which he relied in passing a sentence of imprisonment for public protection [IPP], and that is my, and his, starting point.
An IPP is supposed to reflect the gravity of the offence or offences, but falls short of offences that attract a mandatory life sentence. The sentencing judge is obliged to pass a minimum term of imprisonment to be served before release, but beyond this, the convicted man remains in custody until the Parole Board determines otherwise.
In an earlier life, when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I appeared before the Parole Board on many occasions tasked with trying to secure my client’s release. Let me assure those who are now complaining vociferously about Worboys, that the Parole Board takes its responsibilities very seriously, and in my experience, their starting point is to refuse parole. At the hearing there are several present with an opinion to offer, from the prisoner’s wing officer to report on his general behaviour and his interaction with his fellow prisoners, to his social worker and, where applicable, the prison psychiatrist. Hardly a stone is left unturned. In reality, those who receive an IPP are at risk of staying in custody well beyond their ‘tariff’ expiry date. The most egregious example I had professionally was a client whose ‘tariff’ was eight years, and when I met him, he was in his thirty sixth year! And according to the Grauniad, even as I write, there are 3300 IPP prisoners not knowing when or if they are ever going to be released. The newspaper highlights the case of man given a tariff sentence of 10 months but who is still in prison 11 years later. So to suggest that Worboys has been let off lightly is not borne out by the facts.
Another fact overlooked in all the posturing is that Worboys has actually served 10 years, so he has completed the tariff part of his sentence. There may be an argument that the tariff did not meet the gravity of the offences, but there is an appeal mechanism available to the prosecution and which could have been triggered by Baroness Scotland, the then Attorney-General, whereby on her reference, the Court of Appeal could have revisited the sentence. No such referral was made.
Worboys has been banned from ever owning or driving a taxi, black or otherwise, and once released on parole, he will be under strict supervision. If he breaks the terms of his parole, he will be returned to prison.
Finally, a lot is being spoken about other alleged victims who were also attacked by Worboys and who are complaining that they were not included in the original prosecution. They could have been, but the view of the Clown Prosecution Service is that their inclusion would have made the case unwieldy and served no meaningful purpose. It is not for you, or me, or the judge, to speculate on how many others Worboys abused, the law is clear: a man can only be convicted and sentenced on the available and admissible evidence.
There may be lessons to learn, but to coin a phrase from another sexual predator from across the pond: it’s the law, stupid.
David’s latest humorous book on the law entitled Order in Court is now available in reputable bookstores and on Amazon