IPP sentences are to be reviewed with the intention of scrapping them altogether according to the Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clarke. However, there is fierce opposition to his plans and he may not succeed.
He made the case for getting rid of IPP sentences during a statement to the House of Commons as he introduced his new legislation on sentencing.
Nevertheless, before those of us opposed to the worst sentence ever to be introduced in Britain all start jumping for joy, TheOpinionSite.org must strongly urge caution as the review is likely to take many months and, given the government’s current record on U-turns, one can never be certain as to whether such a radical policy will ever make it onto the Statute Book and become Law.
With David Cameron’s announcement, echoed by Mr. Clarke today, that the reduction in sentence for an early guilty plea by defendants will remain at 33%, it at first seemed to right-wing Tory MPs that Mr. Clarke was in full retreat. In fact, nothing was further from the truth as about halfway through his Commons Statement, he announced that the government intended to review the operation of IPP sentences, get rid of them and replace them with what Mr. Clarke described as “the best of what preceded them“.
What Mr. Clarke meant was replacing IPP sentences with long determinate sentences and, where appropriate, discretionary life sentences. A life sentence would also automatically be given where someone who has already been convicted of a serious sexual or violent offence commits a similar or the same offence in the future.
This would be a return to precisely the system that we had prior to the introduction of IPP sentences by Tony Blair and the discredited former Home Secretary, David Blunkett.
As Mr. Clarke pointed out in his statement to the Commons today, IPP sentences have never worked as intended and instead of producing only a few IPP prisoners every year have been responsible for incarcerating thousands of people who have no idea whether or when they will ever be released.
The real absurdity of the current IPP system is not only that the prisoner has no idea when release may come but neither do the authorities.
The Justice Secretary also introduced other reforms including a mandatory six-month sentence for threatening somebody with a knife and less use of remand in custody. Many visitors to TheOpinionSite.org however will be most interested in the future of IPP sentences. This site has become the leading websites in the UK with regard to IPPs and will no doubt remain so as we watch the failed New Labour policy gradually walk the long road to destruction.
Nevertheless, we really do urge caution. If anyone thinks that the IPP sentence is going to disappear overnight, they need to think again. Furthermore, Mr. Clarke made no reference as to how the justice system would deal with those who have already been convicted and sentenced to an IPP, preferring instead to concentrate on those who may or would have been convicted in the future.
The Prime Minister also made it very clear this morning in his press conference that the current IPP system will continue until the new measures come into force.
He suggested during the Downing Street conference that legislation may be brought forward in the autumn with a view to it being on the Statute Book by next April. This timetable however is far from certain as the reforms contained in the new bill are likely to meet fierce opposition from right wingers and the tabloid newspapers.
TheOpinionSite.org believes that if any other MP had stood up in the House of Commons and put forward the kind of reforms presented by Kenneth Clarke today, they would never have got away with it.
For all those who have loved ones serving IPP’s and for those of us who are opposed to this appalling sentence on principle, Mr. Clarke’s strength and resilience in dealing with criticism makes a refreshening change from the weak and lily-livered approach offered by David Cameron.
So what of the future?
It is likely that events will follow one of two possible routes. The first would see the reforms in the Bill through to their natural conclusion as they become law, probably with little modification as it slowly dawns upon opposition MPs and the right wing of the Tory party that there is little option but to support the introduction of such measures.
The alternative route would see an intense battle within the Conservative party and between Tory MPs and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners as accusations of being “soft on crime” get heaped upon David Cameron and his Cabinet from all sides of the media, victims groups and organisations with vested interests in keeping the situation as it is now.
For what it is worth, TheOpinionSite.org believes that the first route is far more likely to be adopted than the second.
This is not only because it is essential to save money in the prison system and in the courts but also because many of those in Parliament never really supported IPP sentences in the first place. Most were whipped into submission and forced to walk-through the Yes lobby or risk political exposure and criticism in the tabloid newspapers for being irresponsible by not locking up serious offenders for as long as possible.
Many on the Labour benches were forced to vote for IPP sentences by overzealous party whips or simply stayed away during crucial votes thus ensuring that Tony Blair’s huge majority would carry the day. With the coalition government now in full swing, for the first time we may see people going back on their previous votes as they now have the opportunity to freely exercise their conscience.
There will of course still be opposition to the new measures presented by Mr. Clarke today.
Prison officers will doubtless complain that if IPP prisoners are released and replaced by determinate sentenced prisoners, some prisons may close and jobs may be lost. Policemen across the land will fuel the media with dire predictions of disaster. Probation officers will probably complain bitterly about cuts in funding as the savings that were to be found from offering a larger discount for pleading guilty must now be found from other quarters.
The Sun and Daily Mail newspapers will oppose the reforms in every possible way that they can think of and continue to accuse the government of being soft on crime and failing to fulfil their duty of protecting the public. Meanwhile, the same newspapers will be counting the profits that they make by selling such utter nonsense to an ever more gullible and ignorant public who can’t be bothered to find out the facts as they really are.
Despite the above, TheOpinionSite.org is more or less convinced that Mr. Clarke will get his way at last and that IPP sentences will eventually be scrapped altogether. We must also make it clear however that the process will not be quick, not be easy and could be derailed very easily.
Remember too that until IPP’s are removed, the system as it is now will continue. By next April there will be several hundred more IPP prisoners locked behind bars than there are at present.
Those who are already sentenced and those who will be sentenced between now and when the reforms finally come into force will still face an uncertain future. No indication at all has so far been given as to how the government will deal with those prisoners who have already exceeded their tariff and yet still remain in custody. Nor has the government indicated how it will solve the 2,000 case backlog currently faced by the Parole Board.
The best we can say today is that some progress to get rid of a failed policy brought in by Tony Blair for purely political reasons is being made. The road is a very long one however and there is plenty that can go wrong in the meantime. One must hope that Mr. Clarke and Mr. Cameron have what it takes to see their reforms through to the end.
All right-thinking people, particularly those with loved ones serving IPP sentences, will hope that the government succeeds in its reforms and that it will finally remove from our legal system once and for all the worst possible sentencing legislation ever to be introduced to Britain .