The Ministry of Justice has at last set the date for the abolition of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs), in accordance with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act of 1 May 2012. From 3 December 2012, no more IPPs will be handed down. But abolition, however welcome, is not retrospective: it doesn’t affect those currently serving IPPs, nor those who may receive IPPs between now and the 3rd of next month, although there seem to be some signs that the processing of applications for release by IPP prisoners who are past their tariffs is being somewhat accelerated and improved.
This is the most welcome culmination of years of campaigning against a huge injustice in our penal system, a campaign supported by every significant civil rights organisation and expert but passing almost unnoticed in parliament and the media. It has been the subject of numerous posts on various blogs (including LabourList and this) and of literally hundreds of comments on them, mostly from the relatives and other loved ones of IPP prisoners suffering justified fears that they may never be released, despite never having committed any offence serious enough to warrant a sentence of life imprisonment.
The problems facing the 6,000 or more prisoners now serving IPPs are not by any means resolved, but at least we know that the relevant ministers and their department are aware of them; and it’s probably unrealistic to suppose that there will be a single dramatic identifiable move to resolve them. It will now be for each individual IPP prisoner and his family and solicitors to do whatever they can to remedy specific shortcomings in the management of their cases, appealing to their MPs and the Justice Secretary and their prison authorities and the Independent Prison Monitors and the local newspapers as appropriate for support, and doing everything possible to satisfy their parole boards that they have reduced the risk of reoffending on release to acceptably low levels.
It’s bleak and obvious advice but probably the most realistic that can be offered.
Meanwhile it will be of some comfort to know that a major blot on our system of justice is within sight of being removed. If there’s one thing about it that’s a matter for deep regret, it’s that this long overdue reform owes absolutely nothing to the Labour party in parliament, whose leaders have been consistently ambiguous or even openly hostile to the abolition of this evil and unjust régime. The LibDems have remained almost entirely silent, and the sole credit for a brave and necessary reform belongs to a handful of Conservative ministers, including notably Ken Clarke and now Chris Grayling, the present Justice Secretary and his immediate predecessor.