8th June 2023
The key difference between indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs) and life sentences is that for the 8,711 individuals who received an IPP sentence, they can come to an end.
There is an opportunity for the licence to be terminated ten years after release. UNGRIPP has published helpful information on how the process works.
The ten years runs from the first time someone is released and is regardless of any recalls. This “cooling off” period is ten years for everyone, even for people sentenced as children, which is completely out of kilter with other similar periods, such as rehabilitation periods for disclosing convictions, where the periods are halved for people sentenced as children.
Given the cross party consensus that IPPs are a scandal and a stain on our system, I am perplexed that there has been such limited attention on this power to remove people from the sentence. Reducing the total number of people on this sentence ought to be a priority. Since 2020, the number of people eligible for termination of their IPP licences has steadily increased. According to the evidence from Sonia Flynn on behalf of the Prison and Probation service to the Justice Committee the numbers are as follows:
|Year||Number of people eligible for termination of their IPP|
|Total between 2020 and 2022
When I worked at the Howard League, we suggested an amendment that would have made the licence a period of 2 years, after which it would automatically lapse, unless the Secretary of State applied to extend it. This would have gone a long way to restoring hope and ending the constant cycle of recalls for reasons unrelated to harm, without increasing pressure on an already overstretched and under-resourced system. Unfortunately, this proposal has not been fully considered as yet.
The Justice Committee report recommended that the eligibility period for termination be reduced from 10 years to five years. In the Government’s response to the report, published in February 2023, the former Justice Secretary refused to consider reducing the eligibility period:
“Whilst we will not seek to reduce the eligibility period for licence termination from 10
years to five years, we will review the policy and practice for suspending the supervision requirements of the IPP licence, with a view to ensuring that in appropriate cases IPP offenders are considered for referral to the Parole Board.
Following the Committee’s assertion that offenders serving an IPP sentence on licence in the community are being recalled unnecessarily, we have requested that the Chief Inspector of Probation carry out an independent thematic inspection on the proportionality of recall. We commit to ensuring recall culture and practices are regularly evaluated and hope that this review will corroborate the findings of the most recent inspection of recall, published on 10 November 2020, that recall was being used appropriately and in order to protect the public. Once our request for an inspection has been confirmed and agreed, we will share the Terms of Reference for the inspection with the Committee.”
It is unclear what is meant by reviewing the policy on IPP terminations with a view to ensuring appropriate referrals get to the Parole Board – could this include a discretionary early review in some cases? The terms of reference of a review of recalls are yet to emerge but should be prioritised as a matter of urgency: in my own experience, recalls often relate to people being without sufficient support in the community.
Given the importance of making sure that people who are eligible to have their licences cancelled are getting this, I asked the Parole Board for some data under Freedom of Information Act. This is the answer I received – the information provided is from April 2022 – May 2023:
1. How many IPP termination applications and/or referrals have been received by the Parole Board?
2. How many have been determined?
3. How many have been granted?
4. How many have been refused?
5. How many have been sent for an oral hearing?
6. How many IPP prisoners have now passed ten years since their first release and have therefore become eligible for termination?
The Parole Board does not hold this information. We would suggest this part of your request is sent to the National Probation Service.
I have, of course, asked the Ministry of Justice to supply data in respect of how many people have now become eligible. We know from the evidence of Sonia Flynn above that it is at least 881 and therefore there are at least hundreds of people whose applications have not yet been considered.
So far the grant rate, according to the Parole Board’s data is 160 out of 379 which is just over 40 per cent. Data obtained by UNGRIPP shows that by September 2022, 121 applications had been considered, and 72 of them were successful: a grant rate of 58%. This would suggest that the grant rate between September last year and April has reduced significantly and it is not clear why.
What we do not know is how much time and attention is given to such applications and whether the Parole Board has been given additional resources to deal with these applications. Legal aid remains available in theory, although at present, the person on licence will have to have an income of less than £99 a week (including the income of any partner) to qualify.
If reducing the total number of people under the cloud of this sentence is a priority, then focusing more attention on the termination process should be a clear and urgent area of focus. Everyone who is eligible for it should be prioritised, they should be entitled to non-means tested legal aid to support them with it, and additional resources should be given to probation and the Parole Board to focus on the swift and effective consideration of these applications.