Osborn (Appellant) v The Parole Board (Respondent) [2013] UKSC61

On 09 October 2013 the Supreme Court handed down judgment in relation to the above matter in which Ison Harrison represented Mr Osborn, the Appellant.  Two separate matters on similar facts were also handed down at the same time, the cases having been heard together.

Mr Osborn’s case related to an original application to the High Court to judicially review of the decision of The Parole Board to decline to offer him an oral hearing of his application for parole, instead dealing with the application on paper.

The appeal reached the Supreme Court (formerly known as the House of Lords) after the refusal of the Court of Appeal to overturn the original High Court decision.

The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal (and t
he appeals of the 2 linked matters) and declared that The Parole Board breached its common law duty of procedural fairness to the appellants by failing to offer an oral hearing.  The Parole Board also breached article 5(4) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for the same reason.

The judgment, which was delivered by Lord Reed emphasises that, far from being solely a result of the case law of the European Court interpreting the ECHR, human rights protection permeates our legal system.  Compliance with Article 5(4) of ECHR requires compliance with the relevant rules and standards of domestic law.

The decision sets out that to comply with common law standards the Board should hold an oral hearing whenever fairness to the prisoner requires one in light of the facts and the importance of what is at stake.  By applying these standards the Board will also have complied with article 5(4) ECHR.

The Board had further erred in treating the
requests for an oral hearing as “appeals” and Lord Reed stressed that the paper only decision was provisional and subject to review at an oral hearing if one was deemed appropriate.

The purpose of the oral hearing is not just to help the Board’s decision making process but also to reflect the prisoner’s legitimate interest and ability to contribute to a procedure that has important implications for him and it would not be appropriate for the Board to refuse an oral hearing to save time, trouble and expense.

In a sense the decision serves as a warning to HM Government that simply withdrawing from the ECHR, as the Home Secretary and others have threatened to do, will not prevent the Supreme Court from finding against the Government when they breach their fundamental common law obligations of fairness to their subjects.

This is put into further context by recent comments by Lord Neuberger, the joint president of the Supreme Court, on the danger to libe
rty of the Government’s proposals to restrict, by limiting the scope of judicial review, the right of the ordinary citizen to hold the Government to account for failing to treat its citizens fairly.

Ison Harrison/Harrison Bundey has a long tradition of involvement in cases of this type and pursued the matter on behalf of Mr Osborn to its successful conclusion.  Mr Osborn was represented initially by the late Simon Purchas and latterly by Iain Oliver and David Hatton.  The case was presented at the hearing in April 2013 by Mr Hugh Southey QC of Tooks Chambers (now Matrix Chambers) and Mr Vijay Jagadesham of Garden Court North Chambers.

Erica Restall now deals with most public law work at Ison Harrison/Harrison Bundey and will undoubtedly continue the fine tradition of representing the public in holding the Government to account whenever it is appropriate to do so.

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