A view of D wing from the exercise yard at Wandsworth Prison. It has a capacity of 1456 prisoners. Pic by Andrew Aitchison www.prisonimage.org

A view of D wing from the exercise yard at Wandsworth Prison. It has a capacity of 1456 prisoners. Pic by
Andrew Aitchison www.prisonimage.org

The UK has more than 4,000 offenders languishing in prison on out-dated, open-ended IPP sentences, and it’s time that the situation was resolved. Pressure should be brought to address the problem of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection.

I was party to a decision of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) last month in which the Lord Chief Justice ruled on 13 individual cases applying for permission to appeal against IPP sentences. Every one of the 13 cases was dismissed. This essentially means that the Court of Appeal has turned its back on the majority of the existing IPP population. (More on the Justice Gap on ‘The nightmare known as IPP’)

It’s a decision that has caused great concern to those most affected – the prisoners and their families.

Some of these prisoners have committed relatively minor offences and the punishment warranted by the past offence was measured in months. But many years later they remain detained on the basis of a prevention of risk of future misconduct that does not apply since the abolition – an abolition that expressly recognised these sentences are, to use the Secretary of State’s words, ‘a stain’ on the British justice system, and simply never worked as they were intended to.

The problem of the existing IPP population cannot be allowed to remain without any redress. It results in unfairness in detention of people simply on the basis of chance as to when they were convicted.

IPPs were introduced by the previous Government with effect from April 2005, and were intended to protect the public against criminals whose crimes were not serious enough to merit a normal life sentence but who were regarded as too dangerous to be released when the term of their original sentence had expired. An offender was considered dangerous if the court assessed that there was ‘a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm occasioned by him of further specified offences’.

It is important to emphasise that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 removed all discretion from the court once it was found that the offender was dangerous. The sentence had to be IPP or life imprisonment.

Up to parliament
Although abolished and replaced in December 2012, the changes were not made retrospective and as of March this year, there were more than 4,000 still in custody under a sentence of IPP – that’s about 5 per cent of the total prison population.

In throwing out the appeals of all 13 cases, the lord chief justice Lord Thomas said each had been properly sentenced according to the law as it was at the time, and that it was now up to Parliament to come up with a solution for the thousands of prisoners still in prison past their minimum term.

He admitted that it would not be easy to find a solution to the problem, but stressed that it was Parliament which legislated to establish sentences of IPP in the first place, and therefore it should be down to Parliament to ‘provide a correction’.

It’s a really depressing situation and one which brings into disrepute the British justice system. In effect we have life sentences being served by offenders whose offences never called for a life sentence, and who should have been released years ago based on the punishment merited.

The rules of sentencing must be applied fairly. It is widely recognised that existing IPPs are an issue and it is good that they are being openly debated – the problem is that the problem is not being acted upon and nor does there seem any intention to do so on the part of the Government.

It is hoped that the Secretary of State will sit up and pay attention to this latest warning from the Court of Appeal. The Government’s own spokesperson in the House of Lords (Lord McNally) described the situation as ‘a time-bomb’ when the IPP was being abolished.

So far the fuse remains lit and the countdown continues.

Profile photo of Philip Rule About Philip Rule
Philip is a barrister at no 5 Chambers

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  • andy weaver April 23, 2016 10:53 am

    This is what happens when you let a bunch of stuck up Mummy’s boys who haven’t got a clue about real life, run a country. Let’s face it this country is screwed ! Totally ashamed to be British ! ! Andy. ..

  • carlfenton April 25, 2016 4:02 pm

    my mate stole a car and got 12 month IPP…….. hes been in 9yr and wont behave.hes lost all hope.thankyou david cameron.

    • annette matthews August 19, 2016 9:36 pm

      ffs that in itself is criminallets get march to downing strret organised ,murderes get less

  • lois June 1, 2016 2:45 pm

    my husband got 10 half years ipp hes done 8 he is shitting himself when hes done the 10 half coz he nos how hard it is to get out listening to all the other ipp prisoners .

  • BJF June 28, 2016 9:32 pm

    I’m a prison officer with 17 years experience and I think the IPP sentence is an absolute travesty of justice. I have witnessed first hand the despair and frustration it causes. Young men embittered by the system, turning to drug addiction and self-harm (or worse) because they lose all hope. If legislation created this sentence and legislation is required to address it, why is nothing being done? When is the Government going to have the bollocks to deal with the thousands of men languishing in the system before more lives are destroyed?

  • Susie spence July 7, 2016 2:51 pm

    My son got 3 1/2 years pip, he has done nearly 6 yrs and ready some of these comments it looks like he going to be there a while longer, I just hope I’m still alive when he comes home to spend some quality time with him and help him get back to normality, I’m gutted and miss him loads,

  • andy weaver July 11, 2016 12:49 pm

    Hello, it’s ipp not pip. Pip is personal independence payment. If your son got 3 and a half yrs and has served 6yrs he’s got to be due for release anytime now duck. So don’t worry yrself silly, your boy will be home soon ? all the best, Andy.

  • Rob July 26, 2016 5:25 pm

    “my mate stole a car and got 12 month IPP…….. hes been in 9yr and wont behave.hes lost all hope.thankyou david cameron.”

    You can’t get an IPP for theft. Was there someone in the car (robbery)? Or did he use violence in the process?

  • T August 3, 2016 12:40 am

    My friend did an attempted burglary and was supposed to do less than two years and almost 10 year later he’s still in was not long in the papers that he’s just tried to take his own life again it’s shocking what hope do they have when they don’t even no there realise date ipp prisoners should be realised they have served there time and more

  • terry murphy August 30, 2016 10:16 pm

    My son had15 monthes ipp and has done 11yrs now no light at the end of the tunnel as probation just pass the buck all the time waste of space .

  • Don’t worry about my name September 18, 2016 4:34 am

    Fuck IPP my nigga got 6 do 3 sentence, he was meant to come home 2015 march, parole board can suck its mum

  • Angry 😡 October 14, 2016 11:23 pm

    My B/F got a 5 year IPP sentence & is now 6 years over tariff. He has complied & completed all courses recommended & yet when it comes to Parole they suggest another course for him further delaying his freedom, further delaying our future….this is not justified. Prison is a business & for each prisoner they get on a course they receive ££££££s of funding…..& at the other end tax payers foot the bill ⛓😔💔⛓

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