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The Hearing Process

How Cases Are Considered

The Board considers most cases in what is known as a ‘panel’ of 3 members of the Board.  The panel is chaired the Chairperson or by a ‘Panel Convenor’.  The Panel Convenor will usually be a current, or former, District Court Judge.  The other 2 members of the panel are usually non-judicial members.  (View the list of who’s currently on the Board).  The cases of more serious offenders are often considered by a larger group of Board members known as the ‘Extended Board’, which meets every three months. 

The members that will consider an offender’s case receive a file of information about the offender 2-3 weeks before the offender’s hearing so that they can prepare and  familiarise themselves with the case.  A panel of Board members usually meets at each one of New Zealand’s 19 prisons once a month for anything between one and four days depending on the number of hearings (cases) that are scheduled.

The hearing process – Step 1 - The hearing type

Before the hearing the Board is required by law to decide whether the hearing will be an attended or an unattended hearing. The Board currently conducts the vast majority of hearings as attended hearings.

An attended hearing is where the Board is able to speak with the offender, listen to whatever they may have to say, and ask any questions of the offender that the Board may have.  If the hearing is attended the Board can also give the victim(s) of the offender a chance to appear before the Board to have their say about the case (although not usually at the same time as the offender, and not at a prison). 

An unattended hearing can be held when the Board decides it does not need to hear from anyone in person.  The Board rarely holds unattended hearings, although there are certain occasions when a decision needs to be made quickly and it is not appropriate to wait to see an offender (or other party) in person.

The hearing process – Step 2 - Notifications

Planning for an offender’s appearance in front of the New Zealand Parole Board begins 14 weeks before the hearing is held.  At this point information starts to be prepared for the Board to consider at the hearing.

Also informed of the hearing date are the manager of the prison in which the offender is detained, the Community Probation and Psychological Service, the police, and – if the offender is detained in a hospital – the Director of Area Mental Health Services.

Fourteen weeks before the hearing, any registered victims are notified by the Board, and the offender is also told of the impending hearing and informed that they may make written submissions about their case

The hearing process – Step 3 – Information sent to members

About 3 weeks before the hearing the information the Board will consider about an offender is sent to the members that will hear the offender’s case.  This could include submissions from the offender, the victim(s) of the offender, and the police.

Information the Board considers to make a decision on an offender’s case can include:

  • details about their current and previous convictions, summary of facts, sentencing notes and pre-sentence reports
  • a report from the Department of Corrections explaining the rehabilitative programmes or work or other activities that have been done during their sentence and the progress made with their sentence management plan
  • information about any restorative justice processes undertaken
  • information about how parole or release would be managed by the Community Probation and Psychological Service, including any recommended special release conditions
  • any psychologists' reports about offending, treatment and risk of re-offending
  • any advice from other specialists
  • submissions from the offender, any victim(s) of the offender and the police

A copy of the information that the Board will consider is also sent to the offender, with the exception of victim(s) submissions.  The offender is allowed to read a copy of any victim(s) submissions under supervision but they cannot keep a copy. The victim’s contact details are removed from the copy the offender reads.

The hearing process – Step 4 – Victims’ hearings

Every registered  victim of an offender is entitled to appear and make oral submissions to the Board for the purpose of assisting the Board reach a decision.

When a registered victim requests to make an oral submission this will usually take place 2-3 days before the Board meets with the offender. Victims’ hearings are not scheduled to take place at a prison. They are either at the Board’s own offices in Wellington, or at a venue that is convenient to the victim and the Board.  Often victims’ hearings take place via Video Conference link between the Board sitting at a prison or at the Board’s Wellington office and a location convenient to the victim where facilities are available.

Victims and their supporters have a chance to give their views to the Board about the case; to voice their concerns about the offender’s possible risk to the community and to the victims themselves.

There is more information about victims’ submissions and hearings in the 'Victims' area of this website.  (View the 'Victims' area of the site).

The hearing process – Step 5 – The offender’s hearing

Although the offender’s hearing usually takes place in the prison they are detained in the Board sometimes hears cases by video conference between the prison where the offender is and the Board’s Wellington Office or another suitable location..  Unless they waive their right, the offender will appear before a panel of Board members.

The offender will be brought into the hearing room and will sit at a table (at the end of the table) with the Board members. The offender may be represented by counsel, with the approval of the Board. 

The Board members will ask questions of the offender relating to their attitude to their offence and the rehabilitative programmes they have completed or a scheduled to complete while in prison.  The Board may also ask about the support available from family, community groups and friends, should the offender be released.

The Board will also hear from any supporters who appear for the offender and from Corrections Officers who work with them.

With the approval of the Board  the offender may be represented by counsel.

The Board hearing process is not as formal as a court of law but is designed to ensure that Board members get a good understanding of the offender’s attitude and prospects should they be released. It is also designed to encourage offenders to speak openly to Board members.  Once the first part of the hearing is concluded, which could take 10-20 minutes depending on the type of case being considered, the offender and others leave the room and Board members deliberate the outcome, including release conditions if appropriate.  They are usually also told the reason for the decision, which may be expanded upon in the written decision which follows. 

When a decision is reached by the Board, the offender will be brought back into the room and in most cases told the outcome. If the decision is reserved (delayed to give greater time for consideration and preparation of the written decision), the offender will be advised accordingly.

The hearing process – Step 6 – Notification of hearing outcome

The offender is told the decision, generally on the day of the hearing. They will be given details of their conditions if their release is approved, or given the reasons if their release is declined.

All those notified of the hearing (including registered victims) must be told whether or not an offender is to be released, and if so, any release conditions imposed.  A written copy of the decision is sent to the offender. Registered victims receive an edited copy of the offender’s decision, as soon as possible. The Police are also advised of the Board’s decision.