The Truth About IPP Sentences

Government loses more court battles over IPP & CRB checks

European Court of Human Rights

Judges again overrule government on IPP sentences and CRB checks can report that the UK government has been heavily criticised by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in two major rulings this week involving IPP sentences. The government lost both cases, Downing Street has not made a statement and needless to say, the tabloid press have not reported the story.

This follows the Court of Appeal ruling against the government two weeks ago declaring the blanket disclosure of details in CRB checks to be unlawful.

This week, the government lost its appeal against the court’s ruling in Wells, James & Lee v UK, the case which effectively killed off the appalling Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP). Despite government protestations to the contrary, the government was exposed as being dishonest in not having put sufficient resources in place to enable IPP prisoners to realistically stand any chance of release.

The ECtHR also said that the UK senior judiciary was ‘far too narrow’ in its interpretation of Article 5 of the ECHR which says prisoners cannot be kept in jail indefinitely for purely preventative purposes unless there are mechanisms in place to allow them a realistic chance of release by reducing their risk level.

The second case lost this week by the government is that of Betteridge v UK.

Mr Betteridge had taken all available action through the British courts to speed up his Parole Board (PB) hearing, which was long overdue, only to find that British judges were too weak to award damages for the delay or even to do anything about making the PB hearing available.

Despite admitting and confirming the obvious failings of the government, the judges said they were not prepared to ‘fast-track’ Betteridge over those prisoners who had not bothered to take the issue to the courts and in any case, the government had put measures in place to deal with the problem.

In fact, the government has done no such thing and when the promised PB hearing was cancelled yet again, Betteridge took his case to the ECtHR, the British judges having made it clear that they would not no longer listen to reasoned argument.

This week – and to the government’s great embarrassment – the ECtHR not only awarded monetary damages to Betteridge (something that is very unusual) but also very effectively criticised senior British judges for taking the government’s word that it would solve the problem when in fact, the government had no intention of doing any such thing.

There are currently around 6,000 IPP prisoners in jail, 3,500 of whom are past the date at which release should be considered. The same issue applies to many life-sentenced prisoners of whom there are about 8,000. The Parole Board is hopelessly under-resourced and, for purely political reasons, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice are quite content to leave things that way.

Having IPP prisoners and ‘lifers’ (there is little difference) remain in custody generates thousands of jobs; not just for prison staff but also probation officers, course facilitators and administrative staff.

For the sake of clarity (unlike the Sun newspaper which deliberately misleads people) should point out for those who do not know, that the ECtHR has nothing at all to do with the “EU” or the “Europe” so hated by Tory MPs.

The court is in fact part of the Council of Europe which is a totally separate body ; the council is subscribed to by 47 countries, including Turkey and the Russian Federation and under International Law, rulings from the ECtHR must be adhered to by all subscribed member states.

The implications of the rulings

These two cases are a monumental blow for the government and especially for the now furious Home Secretary, Theresa may and the equally irate, seemingly anti-gay, anti-freedom Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling.  This is why neither are making statements about the judgements.

These latest ECtHR rulings come only a week after the blanket operation of the government’s flagship CRB checking system was found to be unlawful. This time the ruling came not from European judges but by judges in the British Court of Appeal who decided that the ECtHR would also rule against the government.

The Home Secretary, rather predictably, has decided to appeal the ruling to the UK Supreme Court but it is quite likely that the Supreme Court won’t even be prepared to hear the case, let alone find in the government’s favour.

(Read more in our Members Forum. Click Here)

The important connection between the CRB case and the two IPP cases above is that all three cases criticise the methodology use by the British government when formulating public protection policies, especially those supposedly designed to protect children.

For the last 30 years, successive administrations have used anecdotal or ‘hearsay’ evidence and opinion to formulate policies such as the CRB system, the Sex Offenders Register, the various sexual and other types of Prevention Orders as well as IPP sentences.

Not one of these policies, which affect many hundreds of thousands of people in different ways, has been based on independent research or factual reference. Instead, they rely on the ‘opinions’ and ‘professional judgement’ of so-called ‘professionals’, all of whom directly benefit from having such policies in place.

Furthermore, most UK protection policies were imported from the United States and have been further developed to satisfy the demands of the child protection industry and the press, both of which profit from generating public fear, genuine or not.

The Appeal Court and the ECtHR have now both said – and for the first time – that the process by which these policies are made should rely on fact and real independent research; not on a “what if” basis or on a desire to generate popular support from the public or lobby groups and not on research which simply tells ministers what they want to hear.

The rulings therefore are highly significant. They now open the door for the State to be challenged when it locks people up without giving them any real chance of release.

However, the rulings also show that the British courts have been wrong in interpreting Article 5 (which determines whether or not detention is lawful) far too narrowly.

Perhaps most important of all though, the rulings completely undermine the basis on which successive British governments have formulated and applied ‘public protection’ policies that when exposed, seem to be designed solely to give the police whatever they want and to satisfy the tabloids and charities.  would therefore hope – and suggest – that having now been severely battered by judges who are not afraid of British politicians, ministers will stop making excuses and do something about the 6,500 IPP prisoners still in jail and who have been left completely unaffected by the repeal of the disastrous IPP sentence; a repeal that followed only after the government’s own embarrassment.

We also suggest that in future, ‘knee jerk’ legislation is avoided at all costs. The IPP was such a piece of legislation and it has left the government in a deep and  potentially very expensive hole, now with no chance of escape.

We would also hope that British judges will realise that they are not duty bound to interpret the ‘Will of Parliament’ regarding law and order in a manner that is only advantageous to ministers or, to put it another way, their Lordships should accept that contrary to the belief of polite society, ministers lie. And they lie a lot.

Judges should never take the word of any government minister because British governments always lie. They have always lied and probably always will.

If British governments had to be honest, the government would fall apart because politicians would be truly accountable. Policemen would once again have to serve the public instead of the public bowing down to them, prisoners would get real help to reform and money-grabbing children’s charities would be put out of business – after having been convicted for fraud on a grand scale.

Perhaps it is too much to hope for but Cameron and his cronies should take note of these judgements. Failure to do so will only result in more embarrassment, more unjust imprisonment and more government by ‘tabloid and charity’.

It is regrettably a fact that the UK locks up more people than any other country in Europe. It also has more prisoners sentenced to some kind of life imprisonment than all the other EU states put together. It is a country whose so-called ‘Justice’ is based on revenge, not fairness. It punishes the weak whilst hiding and protecting the strong.

Every society gets what it deserves and British society is no exception. Ignorance, selfishness and greed have produced the incompetent and unfair British Criminal Justice System that exists today and those who benefit financially and politically from it don’t want it to change.

However, believes that after these latest rulings, it may have to change after all – whether those powerful beneficiaries want it to or not.

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7 Responses to Government loses more court battles over IPP & CRB checks

  1. Ella
    September 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    I can’t even explain how happy I am now I’ve read this – however delayed I was, it’s about time someone took serious action against our government for still making 6000 IPPs serve this sentence even though it has been abolished within good reason – does anyone know any more updated news? And are the ECH pushing the indeterminate to be determinate? Would appreciate if someone could get back to me, great blog by the way

    • Raymond Peytors -
      September 25, 2013 at 5:02 pm

      You will find a great deal of support and information relating to IPP sentences in our forum. Click Here for more information. – Editor

  2. pete
    February 17, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    It’s somewhat depressing for a grumpy old Marxist like me to hear that the preservation of freedom on this increasingly ugly and punitive little island not only depends on bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights but that the very last people who can be trusted with it are our elected politicians. There was once a powerful tradition of liberty and dissent in this country, of resistance to the tyranny of unchecked Authority, stretching back many centuries; but it seems to have run out of steam, or at least lost its way.

    Raymond Peytors, in this forthright and truthful article, brilliantly anatomises how we have become such an authoritarian, paranoid and vindictive jurisdiction: over several decades, our morally and ideologically bankrupt politicians have willingly yielded to the illiberal, unfounded and self-serving whims of the police (who are certainly not known for their defense of liberty) and the fear entrepreneurs who run our frighteningly influential child protection charities. Neither of these insidious sources of government influence are accountable to anyone but themselves, neither are elected, neither promote campaigns which have truly arisen from ordinary people. Both use extremely dubious “research” to justify their calls for ever more punitive and draconian laws: policy-led or advocacy research. Unlike real social-scientific research, this propagandistic guff is designed to elicit only the type of evidence which supports the existing ideological preferences of the police and their accomplices in our punitive charities; it most certainly does not set out to scientifically investigate a carefully designed research question. That’s a bit too much like hard work for our unelected punish-and-condemn brigade, largely because it involves gathering and analysing all data, not just the bits that confirm the investigators’ assumptions. And worst of all for our self-appointed salvationists and protectors, scientific research means dispensing with hypotheses and policies that the evidence fails to support. Not something our crackpot bogeyman-hunters relish, as it would probably put most of them out of a job rather rapidly.

    We have seen the potentially disastrous consequences for sanity and liberty with a recent example of policy-led research: the preposterous report of the Deputy Children’s Commissioner into the alleged extent of so-called child sexual exploitation in the UK. By talking only to those professionals who already believe in the shore-to-shore pervasiveness of sexual exploitation, and by using absurd behavioural “indicators” (which could actually mean anything) as if they were sure-fire pointers of sexual abuse, Sue Berelowitz made the certifiably insane remark that there isn’t a “town, village or hamlet” in the UK where children are not being sexually exploited. Seriously, anyone who believes swivel-eyed tosh like this will believe anything.

    While some senior politicians rightly deemed Berelowitz’s mad report “half-baked and hysterical”, David Cameron was too weak and cowardly to take on the paranoid misanthropes of the UK child abuse industry and immediately pledged his support. Expect more crazy, punitive laws any time soon.

    Through the constant influence exerted on government ministers by these punitive and unappeasable zealots over several decades, we now have a legislature almost which appears almost wholly governed by policy-led research, spewing laws designed to lock up as many people as easily as possible for as long as possible. In this respect, the Con-Dems are proving themselves no more progressive and sane than their appalling New Labour predecessors.

    Fear entrepreneurs like Berelowitz and her misanthropic accomplices in the police and children’s charities have found that the perverse consequence of talking up the need for “public protection” is not a greater sense of security and safety, but greater paranoia, mistrust and vindictiveness: we are rarely at our most balanced, our most compassionate and our most rational we when we are whipped into a frenzy of fear and revulsion by stories of bogeymen stalking the land seeking to rape our children. At a time in the UK when children have never been healthier or safer (or more indulged), parental paranoia over their safety has never been greater, an example of social madness we can thank the pernicious and unassuageable ideologues of public protection and child protection for. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of punitive governance and populist authoritarianism, the Trojan Horse through which a vindictive and cruel prosecutorial State has insidiously grown.

    I would just add one other consideration to Raymond’s superb article: those who aren’t frightened into supporting the ever-more unjust and ruinous policies of the punitive State are (understandably) cynical instead: they know that politicians, police officers and charities lie, that they shamelessly exaggerate and cover up their own wrongdoing. They know that the constant panic about protecting children and the public more generally is self-serving bullshit (apparently, all of us are now children in the eyes of the State, in need of its continuous parental surveillance and punitive protection). And yet, despite this, these cynics still vote, they still go through the daily motions of keeping the system ticking over nicely.

    In Marx’s day, ideology worked by persuading those oppressed by the inequality and injustices of the social order to believe that it was the best of all possible worlds; that “what is” was as good as it gets. Today, it works be encouraging cynicism, the awareness that the system is rotten to the core but the only option is to achieve some inner, personal distance from it and go on with life as normal. This is how we have the insane convention in the UK whereby our rulers seem to measure the success of “child protection” policies (which should more properly be called adult endangerment polices) not on the basis of, say, how many children have been lifted out of brutalising poverty but on how many people have been banged up for thought crimes and even impolite language. Be careful what you Tweet: you could find yourself before the beak facing imprisonment.

    I am delighted to hear that the ECtHR has dealt such a body blow to the UK government’s infatuation with US-style punitive governance, and that these atrocious IPP sentences will one day be toast (they should never have been implemented in the first place in a liberal democracy – they belong more to tin-pot dictatorships). The waste of human lives and the anguish of the families of all those affected by them is little short of an atrocity.

    As a youth, when I joined a hard Left Trotskyite group, I remember a wise old Geordie, a former welder, telling me that the only man to enter parliament with honest intentions was Guy Fawkes. I think we need a massive voter’s strike to show our politicians that unless they ditch their love affair with public protection and punitive governance, unless they stand up to and shut the door on vested interests pushing for more draconian laws and more resources for themselves to lock up and punish ordinary people, they will have no mandate to speak of at all.

  3. Maximus
    February 17, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    This is so important yet most people would not even know what an IPP is.

    The public should wake up to what is going on in this country and realise just how vindictive and dishonest our government really is.

    A good start would be for people to visit this site because it’s the only one that ever tells the truth about things. All the others just copy each other’s articles, most of which are full of misleading rubbish.

  4. martina H
    February 16, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    It’s about time some great news has been set for the IPP Prisoners to give them hope. They have been for far too long the forgotten prisoners, with a cobweb of excuses as to why they remain in prison many years after their tariff. Thank God for the ECHR. They can see the injustice of it, unlike our Government.

  5. Helen
    February 16, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Thank you, Raymond. Your article is absolutely brilliant. We have been thinking what you have dared to say for years. Ever since our son was given an 18 months’ IPP tariff, and is still languishing in prison nearly 6 years later. His punishment was the 18 months. The rest has been solely due to the appalling mis-management of his case, by jumped-up officials and so called ‘experts’, all justifying their jobs on the back of the Kafke-esque IPP sentence. I have a file full of letters to the M o J, and no-one has actually ever looked at our son’s case with compassion. It has been all about ‘we have to protect the public’. So, why only an 18 months’ tariff in the first place? He is not dangerous, and never was. Thank you again, Raymond.

  6. jenny
    February 16, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Thank God for the European Court. But why is it always necessary for the European Court to tell the government when it is wrong?

    Just like Blair, Cameron is only interested in staying popular with his supporters, regardless of the misery heaped on others who cannot defend themselves.

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