Skip to main content

MoJ reforms on IPPs, parole and the Independent Public Advocate welcome, but IPP changes do not go far enough, Justice Committee warns

1 December 2023

Government amendments to legislation to make changes for prisoners serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) Sentences are welcome, but do not go far enough, the Justice Committee has warned, ahead of a Commons debate in Parliament on Monday.

The Government has also introduced amendments to the proposed reforms of the Parole Board, as well as changes to the creation of the Independent Public Advocate. The Government’s latest proposals reflect the concerns raised by the Chair of the Justice Committee in a letter to the Lord Chancellor on 7 June 2023.

On Parole, the Government’s initial plans would have allowed the Lord Chancellor to “call in” Parole Board decisions to release certain prisoners. The Committee said: “We cannot understand how a Secretary of State sitting in Whitehall can be better placed to make a release decision than the Parole Board which has had the opportunity to hear evidence from the prisoner first-hand.” The Government has now dropped this plan, and instead proposes to introduce a power to allow the Lord Chancellor to refer a certain release decision to the Upper Tribunal or the High Court.

On the Independent Public Advocate, the Government initially proposed that the Lord Chancellor would be empowered to decide whether to appoint an independent public advocate after a major incident. The Committee’s letter said: ‘In our view, the Government should amend the Bill so that there is a standing independent public advocate who is empowered to decide to act in the aftermath of a major incident’. The Government has now introduced amendments to create a standing public advocate.

The cross-party committee of MPs has raised long standing concerns around IPPs and the qualifying period that triggers the duty of the Secretary of State to refer an IPP licence to the Parole Board for termination.

In its report published in September 2022, the Justice Committee concluded IPP sentences were “irredeemably flawed” and called for a comprehensive re-sentencing programme, with an independent panel appointed to advise on the practical implementation of this process.

It further called for the current time period after which prisoners can be considered for the termination of their licence following release to be halved, from ten years to five.

Justice Committee Chair Sir Bob Neill has tabled an amendment (New Clause 1) for the report stage debate of the Victims and Prisoners Bill on 4 December which “would implement the recommendation of the Justice Committee’s 2022 Report that there should be a resentencing exercise in relation to all IPP sentenced individuals” and “establish a time-limited expert committee, including a member of the judiciary, to advise on the practical implementation of such an exercise”.

Writing to Sir Bob in a letter published this week, Justice Minister Edward Argar said: “Your committee’s report on IPP Sentences in September last year provided a valuable opportunity to take stock and identify areas for improvement and we have considered your recommendations carefully. We have been particularly persuaded by the recommendation to reduce the qualifying licence period from 10 years to five years, and we are going further; reducing the period to three years.

“These amendments will restore greater proportionality to IPP sentences by reducing the qualifying period to three years and providing a clear pathway to a definitive end to the licence, and therefore, the sentence.

“The parole and IPP amendments will be considered on 4 December when the Bill has its Report stage in the House of Commons.”

The Chair of the Justice Committee Sir Bob Neill (MP for Bromley & Chislehurst, Conservative) said: “After more than a decade of inertia on this issue, it is welcome the Government has taken on board the Committee’s long held concerns over IPPs and the consequences for those subject to them, but the Ministry of Justice’s proposals do not go far enough.

“My amendment would enact the Committee’s recommendation that there should be a resentencing exercise in relation to all IPP sentenced individuals. It’s a much overdue move which has cross-party backing and would make a big difference at a time when prisons are facing unprecedented pressures and conditions are deteriorating.

“We welcome the changes the Government has made on the Parole Board and the Independent Public Advocate. It is very good to see such a positive response to the Committee’s legislative scrutiny work.”

Further information

Image credit: Tyler Allicock/UK Parliament