Bishop of Gloucester responds to Government plans to end early release for terrorist offenders

On 24th February 2020 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill at its Second Reading (and remaining stages). The Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I am grateful to those contributing to this subject today who have far greater knowledge than I do, and I will aim to keep my comments brief.

Certainly, if a society that relies on government to deliver justice has lost confidence in the current system, it is right that we try to address those fears, and we must look at the bigger picture. I share concerns already expressed about the manner in which this legislation has been brought before the House, and particularly the very short time that we have to consider it.

If the justice system is to serve the common good and the flourishing of people and place, there needs to be an emphasis on a radical mutual responsibility, in which we are all truly responsible for one another. Offenders must be expected to take responsibility for their actions. This should be about not only taking the consequences and punishments imposed by a criminal justice system but having the opportunity to take responsibility for past actions, and the possibility of taking responsibility to restore their relationship with society.

What is our responsibility? There are undoubtedly some affected by the measure today for whom time in custody is absolutely vital if they are to have any hope of rehabilitation and a future contribution to society that is about good and not harm. Yet, as has been said, the current condition of prisons and numbers of staff, not least those with experience, means that the Prison Service simply does not have sufficient resources to live its responsibility to ensure a genuine opportunity for rehabilitation, and thus a safer society. Sadly, I do not recognise the picture that the Minister painted of the adequate input already available in prison, not least from my discussions with chaplaincy teams.

As has already been said, it is unsatisfactory that the Bill before us has been produced in isolation from legislation that addresses the urgent need for significant support and reform of the Prison Service and probation services. Given the status quo of our criminal justice system, we will not automatically improve public protection by simply keeping some of these offenders in prison for more of their sentence and removing time spent on licence supervised by the probation service. I am concerned that we might perpetuate a myth that people will be safer because of this Bill.

Given that the legislation will give the Parole Board an expanded role, I hope the Minister can give us assurance that the Parole Board will be appropriately resourced to carry out its task, given the complex nature of determining risk in these cases.

The old adage says that hard cases make bad law. In the light of the tragic events of past months, it is certainly understandable that the Government should want to act to ensure public safety. I want that too. However, I have some fear that tinkering with parts of the system may prove to create as many problems as it solves. I look forward to hearing the rest of this debate.​


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