The two previous blogs have focused on developing legal knowledge through exploring topical issues in the field of law. This article hopes to show you as prospective law students how to go about gaining legal analysis skills through using case materials. Hopefully, by viewing a sample case report (my own) – you will be able to access cases online and come up with your own (hours of limitless fun)!

Warning: The first time you look at a case, or a case report, the language and legal questions can appear confusing and difficult to understand. DO NOT GIVE UP. It will get easier and easier – and will put you in a good position if you decide to become a law student.

Read the case here.

The Facts: R (Osborn) v Parole Board [2013]

  • Supreme Court considers an appeal from three prisoners concerning their right to an oral hearing before the parole board.
  • Parole Board refused to grant hearing when deciding whether to recommend their release or to transfer to open conditions (of the prison).
  • Instead, request refused on grounds by a single member on the prisoners’ papers alone.
  • Parole Board: ‘A hearing would have made no material difference’ – therefore we don’t need to have one. 

 

The Questions for Consideration

 

  1. When should an oral hearing be granted – does the fact that a prisoner who has no realistic prospect of release or transfer constitute a good reason to refuse him an oral hearing?

  1. Does the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) set a higher standard than the common law (UK) duty of procedural fairness?

  1. Should the court itself explore whether there has been a fair procedure in this instance or should it merely consider whether the decision maker had been reasonable?

 

Judgment: Lord Reid

  • An oral hearing should happen whenever procedural fairness demands it.
  • Procedural fairness goes beyond mere procedure: it stops injustice that arises when a prisoner cannot participate in a decision that directly involves him, and it upholds the rule of law by ensuring that lawmakers hear from those affected by their laws.
  • It therefore may be fair to order a hearing even when it won’t assist the Parole Board’s decision.
  • Yes, UK law (common law) should satisfy ECHR law. However, human rights law doesn’t end with ECHR. Common law can go beyond.
  • The UK Court must therefore ask not just about reasonableness of the decision, but whether the procedure has been fair.
  • A prisoner therefore should be granted an oral hearing –if he can show that it would be appropriate.
  • Appeal hearings are not a waste of time: ‘procedures which involve an immediate cost but contribute to better decision-making are in reality less costly than they may appear’.

Appeal was granted.

Commentary

  • Reverses the old trend of only granting prisoners paper hearings.
  • In recent years only 1% of cases received oral hearings.
  • As a direct result of the case the Parole Board published new guidance.
  • However, even more wide-reaching impact.
  • Reinforces and protect human rights law under UK Law not the convention.
  • Ensures that long-term consequences are analysed not just short-term ones.

Case Analysis Technique

Questions to consider:

Q. Did Lord Reid have his eye on the repealing the Human Rights Act debate (see previous blog)? [Therefore wanting to grant protection if it were to be removed.]

Q. Is this case trying to combat government concerns for expenses and public justice? [What may be costly in the short term (i.e. an oral hearing), may end up saving money in the long run.]

Hopefully, this sample case report has shown you the structure of what is important when you read a case. It’s important to try and go beyond the text and think about the potential impact of the case, and contextualise it in legal trends. It’s not easy – however, just as Lord Reid states, What is time consuming in the short term – may end up providing dividends in the long run.