Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – vote on indeterminate sentences

On 20th October 2014 the House of Lords debated the Government’s Criminal Justice and Courts Bill during its Report Stage. Peers debated an amendment from Crossbench Peer Lord Lloyd of Berwick to Clause 10, relating to treatment of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences. The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Rev James Langstaff, joined several Peers in expressing support for the amendment and he voted for its inclusion during the subsequent Division of the House.

Clause 10: Initial release and release after recall: life sentences

Amendment 39. Moved by Lord Lloyd of Berwick

Clause 10, page 11, line 2, after “(prisoners)” insert—

“(a) after subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) Without prejudice to the powers of the Secretary of State to change the release test under this section, the Parole Board shall direct the release on licence of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences with a tariff of less than 2 years imposed before 2008 when the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was amended.”;”

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: [extract] My Lords, this amendment relates to a group of 650 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public under Section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. They are part of a much larger group of over 5,000 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences under that section. However, this amendment does not affect the larger group.

As your Lordships know, the IPP sentence has now been abolished. Mr Blunkett, who introduced the sentence in 2003, has accepted that although the idea was sound the implementation was disastrous—for which, I believe, he has apologised, a rare thing in politics. The problems became apparent very early on. As a result, Section 225 was amended in 2008. The amendment affected in two ways the group of prisoners with whom I am particularly concerned. First, the indeterminate sentence ceased to be available for those with a tariff of less than two years. Secondly, whereas the court was bound to assume under the provisions of the Act that the defendant was dangerous before 2008, that assumption ceased to apply after 2008. It was for the judge thereafter to decide in each case whether or not to impose an indeterminate sentence.

So far, so good. But there was one great defect in the amending legislation, which I am afraid to say I failed to notice at the time. It made no provision at all for those who had already been given an indeterminate sentence with a tariff of less than two years before the amendment took effect. One therefore had this position: a defendant committing a minor offence—such as arson, wounding, or whatever it might be—before 2008 which merited a determinate sentence of, say, four years, would be given an indeterminate sentence with a tariff of two years, or half the notional determinate sentence. That was the way in which it was intended to work and did work. There was no alternative.

However, exactly the same defendant committing exactly the same offence after 2008 could not be given an indeterminate sentence; it was simply no longer available for him. He will have been given, correctly, a determinate sentence of four years. As a result, he will of course have been released years ago under the ordinary early release provisions entitling him to release at a halfway stage. Meanwhile, the 650 unfortunate defendants committing exactly the same offence before 2008 are still in prison. I suggest that it does not take much imagination to see the sense of injustice that that has created…

Bishop of RochesterThe Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I stand here as someone who does not share the professional knowledge that some have shown very clearly in this debate; their arguments were clearly and well made. The simple argument from fairness as regards one cohort of prisoners against another has also been referred to, which is also a powerful argument. A very pragmatic argument has also been alluded to, which is that we have within the prison estate this group of prisoners who have good reason to feel unhappy with their lot. That cannot but make their management more difficult for those who are charged with managing them within the prison estate. Therefore, pragmatic arguments as well as what you might call moral and legal arguments are relevant to this case. I am one of those who would wish to support this amendment. Not only would it right a wrong, but it would lead to an easing of the burdens upon those who have responsibilities for the management of our prisons.

Division on Amendment 39

Contents 80; Not-Contents 170. Government win (Amendment 39 disagreed).

The Bishop of Rochester voted content.