R (Osborn) v Parole Board [2013] UKSC 61; [2014] AC 1115 

Key point

  • An oral hearing may be required to comply with Art.5(4) of the ECHR where fairness to the prisoner requires it

Facts

  • O (whose case was conjoined with two others), had been released on licence after serving half of a six-year sentence
  • He was recalled to prison and his licence was revoked, on the ground that he had breached its conditions
  • The Secretary of State, pursuant to his powers under s.255C of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, referred his case to the Parole Board who, by a paper panel composed of one member, declined to recommend O’s re-release
  • O requested an oral hearing, but this request was refused
  • O challenged this refusal on the ground that his rights as guaranteed by Art.5(4) of the ECHR required such an oral hearing – the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal

Held (Supreme Court)

  • Appeals allowed; O was entitled to an oral hearing

Lord Reed

  • ‘The guarantees set out in the substantive articles of the Convention, like other guarantees of human rights in international law, are mostly expressed at a very high level of generality. They have to be fulfilled at national level through a substantial body of much more specific domestic law’: [55]
  • ‘The importance of the [Human Rights] Act is unquestionable. It does not however supersede the protection of human rights under the common law or statute, or create a discrete body of law based on the judgments of the European court. Human rights continue to be protected by our domestic law, interpreted and developed in accordance with the Act when appropriate’: [57]
  • Therefore, Lord Reed reaches 13 conclusions on the domestic law of procedural fairness so as to comply with the Human Rights Act and the Convention at [2]
  • They begin, perhaps fundamentally, that ‘The board should hold an oral hearing before determining an application for release, or for a transfer to open conditions, whenever fairness to the prisoner requires such a hearing in light of the facts of the case and the importance of what is at stake’: [2]
  • In these cases, these conclusions/conditions had not been satisfied in the board’s decisions to refuse the appellants an oral hearing: [97]-[100]