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Howard League blog · 4 Jun 2024

IPP reform in the Victims and Prisoners Act

The announcement that there will be a general election on 4 July kickstarted a legislative ‘wash up’ process to deal with some of the laws being debated, before Parliament was dissolved. Some Bills were hurried through, but most ran out of time and were dropped. 

One law that did receive Royal Assent was the Victims and Prisoners Act, which – among other reforms – contains measures around people in prison and particularly those serving IPP sentences who are in the community or on licence. 

Changes to IPP sentences 

The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP) sentence was introduced in 2005 (alongside a parallel indeterminate sentence for children, called the DPP sentence). Under the sentence, people were given a minimum tariff, which had to be served in custody in full. At the end of the tariff, they could only be released if the Parole Board was satisfied that they were safe to be released on licence. The sentence was abolished in 2012, but this change was not applied retrospectively. As a result, 2,796 people are still in prison today serving an IPP, 40% of which have never been released. It is impossible to overstate the personal toll of this sentence on those who serve it in custody, those living under its weight in the community, and the loved ones who also suffer its impacts. 

When implemented, the new measures in the Victims and Prisoners Act will: 

  • reduce the qualifying period for licence review by the Parole Board from 10 years to three years (for IPP) or two years (for DPP); 
  • include a presumption that the IPP/DPP licence will be terminated by the Parole Board at the end of the three-year period; 
  • introduce a provision that will automatically terminate the IPP/DPP licence two years after the qualifying period, in cases where the Parole Board has not terminated the licence, so long as the person is not recalled during that period; 
  • enable the Secretary of State to release someone serving an IPP or DPP sentence who has been recalled through the Risk Assessed Recall Review process; 
  • allow the Secretary of State to disregard the recall of someone serving an IPP or DPP sentence for the purposes of the two-year automatic termination period; 
  • require the Secretary of State to lay an annual report before Parliament about the steps taken to support those serving IPP sentences with their rehabilitation and progress towards release. 

Although the Victims and Prisoners Act has been made into law, its measures won’t be implemented until the new government decides a commencement date. This is not expected to be any earlier than the start of September and could take place well after. Until then, people serving an IPP licence must continue to comply with their licence conditions. Those who are eligible for, or approaching, their current review point of 10 years should continue to proceed with the Parole Board process as expected. The Howard League will soon be producing a legal guide explaining in more detail what these changes mean for anyone serving an IPP. 

Changes to Home Detention Curfew eligibility 

Other measures introduced in the Act include an extension of the eligibility criteria for Home Detention Curfew (HDC) to people serving sentences of four years or over. It also replaces the lifetime ban on HDC for those who have previously failed to comply with curfew conditions, instead excluding only those who have not complied in the two years prior to their existing sentence. Again, the commencement date of these measures is unknown pending the election of a new government.  

Interference with the Parole Board and disapplication of the Human Rights Act 

It is not all good news. The Act includes some troubling measures around the operation of the Parole Board, including a new power for the Secretary of State for Justice to refer release decisions by the Parole Board to the High Court for reconsideration. With no evidence that the Parole Board has any difficulty in making such decisions, this is at best a solution in search of a non-existent problem and, at worse, an unnecessary burden on the system that will only slow down parole decisions.  

The Victims and Prisoners Act also provides for the disapplication of section 3 of the Human Rights Act, which requires that all legislation should be read and given effect in a manner that is compatible with the rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, when interpreting and applying certain legislative provisions relating to the release of people in prison. Attempting to exclude a cohort of people from the protections of our human rights regime is completely at odds with one of the fundamental principles underlying that regime: that human rights are universal.  

Next steps 

While the Victims and Prisoners Act takes a meaningful step towards addressing the injustice faced by people serving IPPs, it fails to end the saga entirely. 

Though the licence changes are welcome, they will do very little for the 1,200 people in prison who have never been released, or the 1,600 people who are in custody who were released on licence but since recalled. They will first need to overcome the barrier of proving their risk has been reduced for (re-)release by the Parole Board, and then remain out on licence for a further two years, before the provisions to automatically cancel their licence will apply. 

There was also opportunity with this legislation to make a more significant difference to the lives of those serving IPPs, particularly those still in custody. Some positive changes were proposed while it was still being debated, including an amendment that would have required a resentencing exercise to take place, as recommended to the government by the Justice Select Committee. Unfortunately, too many members of Parliament held back their support and the opportunity was not taken.  

It is time to regroup, therefore. Last month, for our Spotlights IPP event, I chaired a discussion with Donna Mooney of UNGRIPP and Andrew Morris, an Expert by Experience and Trustee of the Raphael Rowe Foundation. They shared their experiences of IPP sentences as well as thoughts on where we can go next. Their message was clear: we must keep going.  

Our new government, once in place in early July, should be quick to implement the Victims and Prisoners Act as soon as possible. But more than that, it is imperative they do not consider this the end of the misery and suffering thousands of people are enduring because of IPPs. The priority for us all must be getting and keeping people on IPP sentences out of the system. Alongside campaigners like Donna and Andrew, the Howard League will continue to do whatever we can to get them the justice they deserve.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.)

Comments

  • Paul smith says:

    I had a tariff of 18 months, served 8 years and was released December 2016, been on licence for 7 and a half years. Turned my life are around. Got married and have been for five years now.
    I’ve also been working since the first day I was released.
    The sentence has been a nightmare and still continues, such a waste of probations time and mine.
    No offence to probation but the first year out of prison they were useless and had no power to help in matters that could help me. I would of been homeless after just a couple of months if it wasn’t for my family.
    Nice to see light at the end of the tunnel, even if it comes way to late. Better late than never.

  • As someone serving ipp and been in the community since 2017 it’s about time this horrendous sentence has been sorted out the probation service are a disgrace they have done nothing to help me. I have found my own accommodation and work I have done everything to prove my life has changed, I have had in writing that at the 5 year mark you can apply to have the supervision take away but hasn’t as I know more than what the probation service do there should be more training on the ipp licence to help these people

  • Pat says:

    I got a 8 year tariff and got out on my tariff i progressed through the system because I pushed and pushed for the work that I needed to do and was shipped all over the country to complete my work maybe I was one of the lucky ones but I can’t understand why prisoners with minor crimes received Ipp sentences shame on the then government and David Blunkett this is a dark time in our judiciary system in this country

  • Ben says:

    It’s about time this horrible sentence was addressed . It took me years to get on the courses necessary to qualify for a parole hearing and I had to move half way across the country . My tariff was six years and I ended up serving 11. I’d never had an adjudication and was an enhanced prisoner all the way through my sentence. It placed a massive financial strain on my extended family .

  • Susan Brown says:

    Very commendable to all concerned its heartwarming to know that there are people out there fighting for justice and I for 1 am eternally grateful

  • Danny Barrs says:

    Thank you for your commitment. However, we need also to raise the issue of a broken “justice” system wherein 100’s innocents are convicted, and the blame placed upon one organisation or a piece of software. Were “all reasonable lines of enquiry followed”? Was all available evidence disclosed? Who is responsible for establishing the truth rather than gaining a conviction or an acquittal in the UK?

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