The European court of human rights has unanimously ruled that indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public (IPPs) which go on indefinitely, served by thousands of prisoners in England and Wales, are “arbitrary and unlawful”. The court has described the use of such sentencing, combined with a lack of proper rehabilitation procedures, as a breach of human rights.
The case was brought to the European court by three IPP inmates: Brett James, Nicholas Wells and Jeffrey Lee, all of whom were convicted of violent offences in 2005. The three have been awarded up to £6,500 in compensation, as well as costs, after they were found to still be held in prison up to nearly three years after their so-called tariff – the date set by set by their trial judge for their earliest release. The three tariffs they had been given originally marked recommended sentences of two years, 12 months and nine months respectively. Judges stated that the prisoners had had no realistic chance to access the rehabilitation courses necessary for them to qualify for release, as proof of their being safe to live in the community.
The use of IPPs in England and Wales has been seen by many to have created a vicious circle in which inmates’ lack of access to the required programmes for release has led to overcrowding when new IPP inmates are sentenced, meaning even less chance of accessing the required courses. Charities have also argued against the logic of the use IPPs. Representatives of the Howard League for penal reform and the Prison Reform Trust both emphasised their condemnation of the IPP scheme which, they said, sentenced people not on the basis of what they have done but on what they might do in the future. Although the IPP system was abolished by the government three months ago, before the court ruling, there are still over 6,000 prisoners serving IPPs in England and Wales, more than have of whom are said to have passed their tariffs. The Ministry of Justice has said that the ruling would not mean that those serving IPPs would now have to be released, as it the ruling did not mean that IPPs were unlawful in themselves.
The IPP system will be replaced later in the year by an “extended determinate sentence”. The justice ministry said that the new system will see more dangerous criminals receiving life sentences, and others spending longer periods of time in prison.
Sources include: The Guardian, BBC News
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