I am one of the founder members of the Association of Prison Lawyers which was established in 2008. It was founded by a small number of practitioners from different organisations to provide an organised and collective response to proposed funding changes for prison law work. I was very keen to widen the remit of the organisation to incorporate training and development opportunities for its members.  I also wanted APL to be established as a centre of expertise and influence in relation to penal policy and practice.  

 

Initially I took responsibility for training and development.  I wanted to ensure that APL should not just be lawyers talking to other lawyers. I devised and organised several highly-regarded conferences to which  representatives from different agencies were invited to participate. Our conferences were designed to educate, generate debate and  influence policy.

 

I was Chairman of APL between 2010 and 2013. By 2013 our membership had expanded to over 400 members. During my chairmanship, APL was established as a key stakeholder for the Parole Board, the Legal Aid Agency and Ministry of Justice. This meant that the concerns of our members were listened to and frequently acted upon.

 

During 2013 I was appointed Campaign Manager for APL in response to proposed cuts to legal aid. I led campaigning work including devising campaign strategies, preparing briefings, conducting research, media monitoring, using social networks, lobbying Parliamentarians, engaging with journalists, proposing and facilitating features and writing articles ; working with colleagues on preparing formal submissions to the Ministry of Justice and Joint Committee on Human Rights. 

I was commissioned to work on stakeholder engagement and governance projects for the Parole Board of England & Wales.

 

The Parole Board is a national, independent, court-like body with responsibility for deciding whether prisoners can be safely re-released into the community.  It is made up of over 200 members (Judges, psychologists/psychiatrists and other public appointees from various backgrounds) and a Secretariat of over 100 members of staff.

 

When I arrived the Board were undergoing a major change in their operational work, precipitated by a Supreme Court judgment (Osborn, Booth and Reilly) which required them to deliver a very significant increase in the number of oral hearings they provide.

 

I was taken on to address some fundamental issues, which would form important foundations for the changes they were seeking to achieve.

 

The key issues were:-

 

1) their governance arrangements were unclear and had been criticized in the course of external audits and reviews. The necessary reforms had stalled for a significant period of time. 

 

2) their relationships with internal and external stakeholders needed improving. They sought my advice on how to engage key stakeholders including prison lawyers and prisoners alongside their other partners such as the Secretary of State’s representatives (the Public Protection Casework Section), staff from prisons and the Probation Service.   

 

My first task was to get a clear sense of how the organisation really worked from the inside and then to think about the interests of the stakeholders.  I wanted to identify what the obstacles were to the governance project and what would need to be in place to achieve the operational changes which were required. There were difficulties in relationships between the management and the membership which needed to be addressed and policies which were inconsistent or ineffective.  I developed a strategy to take all of this into account.

 

I changed the structure of the existing Management Board, recruiting new members including non-executives from outside the organization and establishing a new Management Committee. I drafted consistent Terms of Reference for all of the Board’s committees to ensure that they were sufficiently linked and communicating effectively with one another.  I carried out recruitment exercises for all of the committees to ensure that they were refreshed whilst retaining essential expertise. I set up a steering group for a new Members’ Representative Group and eventually elections were held for membership of the group.

 

I drafted a Constitution for the Parole Board, the first in its fifty-year history. The key aim of this was to formally devolve powers from the membership to an Executive, whilst incorporating sufficient safeguards for the membership. There was a ballot to approve the constitution which passed very comfortably.

 

I also wrote a Code of Conduct for Parole Board Members and drafted new complaints policies for internal and external complaints.  This was another piece of work which had stalled for a long time prior to my arrival.

 

All of this work required careful negotiating with senior civil servants, judges and other experienced professionals, many with strong opinions.

 

Much of my stakeholder work focused upon how to make consultations meaningful. I provided opportunities for representatives from different agencies to be in the same rooms, to talk about how to make the system work, to enable them to understand the pressures on each other and where their interests might coincide.

 

I believed prisoners were an often neglected stakeholder and efforts should be made to enable them to be consulted and informed. I used the most popular prison newspaper to organise a consultation and used the same paper to feed back on the consultation.  I am very keen on tailoring messages to audiences and so I spent a lot of time explaining what proposed changes meant in language I was confident they would understand.  That was even more important given the impact legal aid changes were having on prisoners and the Parole Board.  

 

I produced easy read guides to parole.They are designed to help people with learning and communication disabilities. They also have a wider benefit in that they provide an explanation of how the parole system works. I am very pleased that we have received fantastic feedback for this piece of work.

 

 

 

 

Andrew Sperling

Legal Consultant

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