How does the parole system work? Review judge explains his role

2009-03-03 00:00

Cape Town — The chairman of the National Parole Review Board, Judge Siraj Desai, confirmed yesterday that the controversial release of convicted Durban businessman Schabir Shaik on medical parole has not been referred to his board for review.

Desai said the review board is the only body which can review the decision to release Shaik.

The Cape Town-based judge said only the Correctional Services Minister or the commissioner of prisons can refer a matter to the review board.

“If the area commissioner of Correctional Services is not happy with a parole decision, he refers it to the minister or commissioner of Correctional Services, who would then refer it to me. This could be for reasons that the decision is not consistent with policy or is irregular for another reason. It has not, so far, been referred to me and I do not know whether or not it will be.”

Correctional Services took pains yesterday to point out that the body that granted Shaik’s parole — the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board — is an autonomous and apolitical body whose decisions may only be reviewed by the six-member National Parole Review Board. There are 52 parole boards in the country. Their decisions relating to parole are final unless a review sets them aside. In terms of the new act, parole boards are made up of members of Correctional Services, the police and the lay public.

“There is now community participation in the system of parole. Because of this system and the possibility of errors, a system of review has been set up,” Desai said. “In the past it was dealt with by officials of the Correctional Services Department only. Now that it is determined by outsiders and lay people, the system is open to problems which we need to tighten up.”

Desai declined to give an opinion on the decision, saying he does not know the facts of Shaik’s medical condition. A further reason for not wanting to comment was the possibility that the matter might, in due course, come before him as chairman of the review board.

The law relating to medical parole was altered in 1998 because of the extent of corruption involved. In terms of the new conditions, an illness has to be life-threatening or terminal for a prisoner to qualify for medical parole. However, in terms of the law, a prisoner who is granted parole must fulfil parole conditions. If they recover, they will be compelled to return to prison.

Asked if Shaik has been treated favourably compared to other ill prisoners, Desai said: “This is an inference one can make. There are thousands of cases that have to be dealt with.

“To some extent we are hamstrung because of the narrow ambit of illness. I think this could be amended to be broadened, so that medically unfit people could be released. We have a lacuna [gap] in the law.”

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