Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs): stuck in a groove?
It seems that my celebration in a recent blog post of the abolition by parliament of the vicious system of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) was a little premature, although we have all long recognised that much more remains to be done to rescue existing IPP prisoners and their families from their continuing Kafka-esque plight. It now transpires that –
- The provision of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) which abolishes IPPs still hasn’t been brought into effect by the Ministry of Justice, despite the Act having received the Royal Assent and passed into law on 1 May this year;
- There have been indications that IPP abolition may not be brought into effect until well into next year, if then;
- Judges have continued to hand down IPPs in some cases even after Parliament had formally approved their abolition (perfectly legally, since the relevant clause abolishing them has still not been brought into effect, but in clear contradiction to the will of Parliament and the government);
- Nothing has yet been done to correct the obvious defects in the current criteria used by parole boards in deciding whether or not to release IPP prisoners who have served the punishment part of their sentences, even though the effect of those criteria is to ensure that in practice very few IPP prisoners are ever released. The Ministry of Justice has publicly recognised the need to change them;
- Even when an IPP prisoner is released, now or in the future, he – it’s almost always he — is released on licence, usually for ten years, and is liable to be recalled to prison, potentially indefinitely, even if he has not broken any law again (“reoffended”), essentially on the whim of the probation officer supervising him.
No wonder the thousands of people serving IPPs and their families are wondering bitterly whether the purported abolition of IPPs in LASPO is going to make any practical difference to them or indeed to anyone else.
All this and more, including some of the likely reasons for the delays and failures to follow through on LASPO, is spelled out in detail in Mark Mullany’s admirably clear and informative post here. This should be compulsory reading for all who remain worried about IPPs and the ominous inactivity ever since their apparent abolition by statute. Additional light on this frustrating situation is shed by comments on my earlier post about IPPs here, here and here (warm thanks to their contributors).
Many of LASPO’s provisions not connected with IPPs are open to serious objection. Some of these, such as the additions to the list of offences that will now attract mandatory life sentences regardless of the circumstances of individual cases and overriding the judges’ discretion, have clearly been forced on the Ministry of Justice as a quid pro quo for the abolition of IPPs and eventual liberalisation of the criteria for deciding whether to release existing IPP prisoners. It’s an open secret that there has been strenuous objection to the abolition of IPPs from the more reactionary elements on the Tory back benches, potentially from the more primitive tabloids, and – if rumours are to be believed — even from the home office and perhaps from some of the prime minister’s advisers. It would be intolerable if political cowardice were to be allowed to frustrate the will of Parliament as expressed in the approval of LASPO, prolonging the uncertainty and misery of tens of thousands of victims of this disgraceful system (most of them wholly innocent of any offence). The inertia (to put it at the most charitable) of the Labour front bench in the face of this foot-dragging by the government on an issue of clear principle defies comment.
So pressure on ministers is still necessary after all. Write to your MP, and to the newspapers, and to any of the members of the House of Lords who have been tireless in raising these matters, such as the admirable Lord Ramsbotham, and to the Labour shadow minister of Justice. Having at last won the main battle, it would be obscene now to lose the war.