STOP SENDING PEOPLE TO PRISON FOR THEIR OWN PROTECTION
We are calling on all Howard League supporters to email their MP
If you came face to face with a child in trouble, or a woman threatening to take her own life, or a man who feared being attacked, what steps would you take to help them and keep them safe?
Surely, you wouldn’t send them to prison. But magistrates and judges have the power to do this, because of an obscure law that gives courts the power to remand people into custody ‘for their own protection’.
This could happen to anyone. The court is not required to hear expert evidence about you. You could be facing a charge so minor that it would be impossible to receive a prison sentence. But you can be sent to prison. And you may not even have a solicitor in court when it happens.
The Howard League is trying to change this – and we need your help.
An amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that would scrap this outdated law has been tabled in Parliament. The proposed change is based on research carried out by the Howard League for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System. MPs and peers presented the research in a briefing published last year and called for the power to be repealed.
We are calling on all Howard League supporters to email their MP to ask them to support the amendment and vote for it.
To make things simple, we have jotted down some lines below that you can choose from to include in your email. Please include your postcode in the email and don’t forget to mention that you are a constituent.
We are trying to get this message out to every MP in the land, so please copy us into your email – our address is: firstname.lastname@example.org – so that we can keep track of how we are getting on.
Dear XXX MP,
I am writing to you as a constituent (Postcode: XXX XXX) to ask if you will support and vote for a proposed amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that would repeal the power of the criminal courts to remand people in prison ‘for their own protection’. This clause would remove an outdated law that has no place in a modern justice system.
The new clause – which has been tabled by Jackie Doyle-Price MP, a former health minister, and Debbie Abrahams MP – reads:
Custody for own protection or own welfare
(1) The Bail Act 1976 is amended as follows.
(2) In Part 1 of Schedule 1 (Defendants accused or convicted of imprisonable offences) omit paragraph 3.
(3) In Part 1A of Schedule 1 (Defendants accused or convicted of imprisonable offences to which Part 1 does not apply) omit paragraph 5.
(4) In Part 2 of Schedule 1 (Defendants accused or convicted of non-imprisonable offences) omit paragraph 3.
This new clause would repeal the power of the criminal courts to remand a defendant into custody for their own protection (or in the case of a child, for their own welfare) pending trial or sentence.
Currently, under the Bail Act 1976, judges and magistrates can order for adults to be held in custody for their own protection – or, in the case of a child, for their own welfare – even in cases where the charge they face could not result in a prison sentence. Typically, this power is used to detain the most vulnerable of defendants, predominantly those who present a risk to themselves and have been let down by services in the community. Prison is an unsafe environment for people in crisis; it is wrong in principle, and problematic in practice, to use the most punitive sanction available to the state to make up for this.
A court can use this power to send a person to prison without expert evidence or any formal investigation into their circumstances, and without them having legal representation. The court cannot direct where the person is remanded to, nor ensure that they receive particular care or treatment. The government does not keep data about how often the power is used, so there is hardly any scrutiny, and this is happening at a time when conditions in prison are particularly severe, and time spent on remand even longer than normal, because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is the most significant piece of proposed legislation on crime and justice in this country for many years. Let us take the opportunity to remove an outdated power that is out of step with other laws – such as the Care Act 2014, the Children Act 1989 and the Mental Health Act 1983 – that recognise the need to support vulnerable people and treat them with dignity.