The Justice Minister has announced the establishment of the new Parole Board and the commencement of the Parole Act.
The act puts the parole process on a statutory footing and establishes an independent, statutory Parole Board to decide on parole applications.
The act sets out the criteria for how the board will reach its decisions, which will be independent of the Justice Minister of the day. Under the new act, life-sentence prisoners must now serve at least 12 years before being considered for parole compared to the previous seven years.
The average sentence served in the last 10 years before a life-sentenced prisoner is released on parole is 18 years, and in 2019 it was 20 years.
Minister Heather Humphreys said that the establishment of the Parole Board on a statutory footing was a priority under the Justice Plan 2021 and is "a key commitment in the Programme for Government".
In a statement, Minister Humphreys said that the new system would be more transparent and fairer.
“The Parole Board plays a vital role in the justice system. Transparency and accountability is vital in achieving fairness for victims of crime and rehabilitation for the prisoners. I believe that the new independent Parole Board will considerably improve the system as it currently operates.
"The change to the length of a life sentence which must be served, from seven years to 12 years, before an initial parole hearing is a recognition that the previous period was distressing for victims. I believe the new period of 12 years is a positive change.
"I am also glad that the new board includes members who have significant experience of working with victims as well as prisoners.”
Earlier this year, The Hon. Mr Justice Michael White was nominated by the Chief Justice as the inaugural Chair of the Parole Board, with the role of Chief Executive recently advertised.
Under the act, parole can only be granted if the Board is satisfied that the prisoner does not pose an undue risk to the public, that he or she has been rehabilitated, and that it is appropriate in all the circumstances to release him or her on parole.
Victims of crime will be able to make submissions to the Board if they wish.