TheOpinionSite.org 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) TheOpinionSite.org 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.
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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.
TheOpinionSite.org 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, TheOpinionSite.org 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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