IPP Prisoners – Hope for some of those still serving abolished sentences

Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) were available for courts to impose from 2005 to 2012. They were designed to protect the public from serious offenders whose offending did not merit a life sentence.

IPP sentences are indeterminate. Offenders sentenced to IPP were given a minimum term (tariff) which they must spend in prison, after which they can apply to the Parole Board for release. The prisoner will then only be released if the Parole Board is satisfied that they no longer need to be confined for the safety of the public. As release is never automatic, prisoners can be detained indefinitely if the Parole Board decides it is not safe to release them.

When released, a person serving an IPP sentence will be on licence. Breaching the conditions of the licence may result in the person being recalled to prison. If recalled, a person must remain in prison until the Parole Board is satisfied that custody is no longer necessary for public protection. The licence will be in force indefinitely until its termination.

IPP sentences have been widely criticised. Key concerns include:

IPP sentences were abolished in 2012, but not for existing prisoners

Although IPP sentences were scrapped 11 years ago, the change was not retrospective. Around 3,000 people given IPP sentences remain in prison today. Almost half of these have never been released while the remainder were released on licence but later recalled to custody.

Proposed reforms

Reforms to the current IPP regime set out in the Victims and Prisoners Bill would mean that IPP prisoners will be referred for review three years after their first release. If a licence is not terminated at the three-year mark, it will end automatically after a further two years if the person is not recalled to prison in that time. If enacted, changes will be made to The Crime (Sentences) Act 1997.

These changes will be applied retrospectively, meaning that, once the legislation is in force, licences should immediately end for around 1800 rehabilitated offenders.

People who have been recalled to prison or taken into secure hospitals will not be eligible.

Response to the proposed reforms

While the changes are welcome, the Howard League is critical of the government’s approach. It comments:

‘…the IPP scandal is a long way from being resolved. The changes will do little to help 1,200 people in prison who have never been released, and they will deal a further blow to 1,600 people who have been released on licence but since recalled. For them, an end to this shameful saga remains out of sight.’

Independently of the government’s proposed reforms, a number of MPs, including Sir Bob Neill, chair of the Justice Committee, have tabled an amendment which could lead to the re-sentencing of many IPP prisoners.

The gist of the proposal is that:

‘The Lord Chancellor must make arrangements for, and relating to, the re-sentencing of all prisoners serving IPP sentences within 18 months beginning on the day on which this Act is passed.’

This new clause would implement the recommendation of the Justice Committee’s 2022 Report that there should be a re-sentencing exercise in relation to all IPP sentenced individuals, and calling for an expert committee, including a member of the judiciary, to advise on the practical implementation of such an exercise.

It is not clear whether this amendment will carry government support.

How can we help?

We have over 30 years’ experience of representing clients facing investigation or charges for criminal offences. We ensure we are up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we can give our clients the best advice possible. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact Tarsem Salhan on 0121 605 6000 or at tsalhan@salhan.co.uk.