Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Indefinite sentences ruled unlawful

More than 6,500 UK offenders have been sent to jail indefinitely since 2005

Jailing dangerous prisoners indefinitely on the grounds of risk without giving them access to rehabilitation courses breaches their human rights, European judges have ruled.

The European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that the controversial sentences, which Ken Clarke as Justice Secretary announced he was scrapping last year, breached prisoners' rights to liberty and security.

More than 6,500 offenders have been sent to jail without any fixed date for their release using indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public (IPPs) since they were brought in by Labour in 2005.

Such a large number of people were sentenced to IPPs that "it soon became clear that existing resources were insufficient" and "IPP prisoners swamped the system in place for dealing with those serving indeterminate sentences", the human rights judges ruled.

The case concerned three Britons - Brett James, Nicholas Wells and Jeffrey Lee - who were given automatic IPP sentences in 2005 and claimed that a failure to ensure they had access to courses in prison harmed their ability to show they were rehabilitated and able to be released.

The judges said: "It is clear that the delays were the result of a lack of resources."

While resource implications were relevant, the inadequate resources "appeared to be the consequence of the introduction of draconian measures for indeterminate detention without the necessary planning and without realistic consideration of the impact of the measures", they added.

"Further, the length of the delays in the applicants' cases was considerable: for around two and a half years, they were simply left in local prisons where there were few, if any, offending behaviour programmes. The stark consequence of the failure to make available the necessary resources was that the applicants had no realistic chance of making objective progress towards a real reduction or elimination of the risk they posed by the time their tariff periods expired.

The Government must also pay almost £14,000 in damages and almost £30,000 for costs and expenses, the court ruled. It must pay James about £2,413 (the sterling equivalent of 3,000 euros), Wells £4,987 (6,200 euros) and Lee £6,435 (8,000 euros) for damages, the court said. It must also pay them £9,652 (12,000 euros) each for costs and expenses.

The ruling raises the possibility that the Government could have to pay compensation to up to 3,500 prisoners currently sentenced to IPPs who have already served their minimum tariff. There were 6,017 prisoners serving an IPP sentence at the end of March, with 3,506 of these being held beyond their tariff expiry date, the latest figures released by the Prison Reform Trust showed.