There seems to be a great deal of confusion amongst the general public as to what exactly an IPP sentence is. News organisations, including the BBC, often report that someone has received an Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP) but never actually point out what it is or what it means.
Worse than that, tabloid newspapers such as the Sun consistently report such sentences incorrectly, claiming that the defendant has received ‘5 years‘ when in fact the convicted person has been convicted to a minimum of 5 years and may in fact may never be released.
We hope that this will inform people as to the truth of what is possibly the most criticised, inhuman and unjust sentence ever introduced into the UK criminal justice system:
The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP)
What it is, where it came from and how it works
What it is
The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection is a cleverly devised piece of legislation introduced by the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) 2003 that is designed to imprison sexual and other ‘dangerous’ offenders for life, without the need for the evidence to actually warrant the imposition of a life sentence.
However, an IPP is a life sentence in all but name. It has the same structure as a life sentence, the same criteria for parole, the same limitations on the offender and the same difficulties, in that a prisoner has to try and prove that he is no longer a danger to the public if he is to stand any chance of release. Should he achieve release, he will be on licence for life and subject to recall to prison at any time for any reason. No evidence is necessary for a recall, only the ‘feeling’ of a probation officer.
The only difference from a life sentence is that 10 years after being released, an IPP prisoner can apply for the licence to be rescinded. As the sentences were only introduced in 2003, this obviously has never been tested but most lawyers agree that it would be unlikely that the licence would be ended without a change in current public protection protocols.
It was intended that very few IPPs would be given each year. There are now nearly 7,000 people serving indeterminate sentences.
The IPP is a very typical New Labour “knee jerk” policy put in place in order to secure cheap votes, which it did with great success at the general election following its introduction. Sex Offender Prevention Orders, Foreign Travel Orders and Risk of Sexual Harm Orders were all introduced on the same basis and secured support for Tony Blair’s government from many tabloid reading voters.
Although there was enormous controversy at the time, MPs soon realised that to criticise the measure would incur the wrath of the Murdoch owned tabloid papers and the political annihilation that came with it.
In the end, the bill went through Parliament more or less unopposed with only a handful of MPs present. Unusually though, probably for the same reasons cited above, the House of Lords did little to amend the Bill during its progress.
The result is a piece of law that has failed to achieve its objective, has dramatically increased the prison population and is an embarrassment to the new Coalition government that now seems lost as to how to deal with the mess created by the discredited former Home Secretary, David Blunkett who created the thing in the first place.
Where it came from
As stated above, the IPP was introduced by the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) 2003. The former Home Secretary, David Blunkett was largely responsible for the drafting of the original bill and for steering the measure through Parliament. It is perhaps not insignificant that he was also responsible for the now highly criticised and very one-sided US-UK Extradition Treaty. (See next month’s newsletter – sign up here)
The IPP was aimed primarily at sex offenders and was the result of heavy and sustained campaigning by Sara Payne, the mother of Sarah Payne, the little girl who was murdered by a convicted paedophile, Roy Whiting. Mrs Payne received the backing of two Murdoch owned tabloid newspapers, the News of the World and the Sun, both of which are well known for their anti-paedophile protests which have generated huge profits for both publications.
It is likely that a deal was done with Blunkett as he was granted unlimited coverage in both newspapers to his hard-line stance on many aspects of Law and Order, most of which are now acknowledged to have been solely designed to secure populist support for Tony Blair and New Labour.
We should not be surprised at Blunkett’s approach as at the time of his appointment as Home Secretary, he promised to “make Jack Straw look like a liberal”. He clearly had no interest in Justice as such and was purely interested in promoting his own popularity; which he did successfully until he was forced to resign for abusing his position as Home Secretary by manipulating a passport application.
The reasons given to Parliament to explain the necessity for the IPP were vague to say the least. The whole of the CJA 2003 was supposedly designed to ‘modernise’ the classification of sexual offences and the IPP was part of that process. The Act was full of contrived measures which manage spectacularly to contradict other pieces legislation introduced by the same Blair government!
For example, any form of non-consensual penetration, including oral sex, was to be regarded as rape. A ‘child’ was redefined to include anyone under the age of 18, even though in 2000 the age of consent had been equalised for both male and female parties at 16 years of age. Buggery was no longer to be an offence if both parties consented and were over 16 but this was not the case if one party was in a position of trust and over 18, in which case the offence could be Rape, except where there was a recognised relationship…and so on.
“This mess of legislation is one of the most badly conceived and badly drafted laws ever put on the Statute Book” according to one senior member of the new Coalition administration – all of whom nevertheless voted for it.
It was proclaimed that the IPP was necessary in order to keep ‘dangerous sexual offenders’ in jail permanently, even if the evidence did not satisfy the trial judge that a life sentence was necessary.
This is of course a further contradiction. If any offender is ‘dangerous‘, the trial judge has always had the ability to issue a Discretionary Life Sentence for the protection of the public. IPPs were never actually necessary in the first place and were purely a piece of political posturing.
As judges were amongst the first to criticise the idea of IPP sentences, Blunkett made sure the sentence was bound to be handed down by removing any genuine discretion from the trial judge. If the defendant was found guilty of one of the 100 or so listed offences, the Act ensured the trial judge was obliged to hand down an IPP unless there were ‘exceptional’ circumstances.
Although the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause made the Act lawful in British courts, no judge was ever going to use the provision as to do so was bound to result in an appeal by the prosecution. No judge likes to be appealed on a sexual offence conviction.
Blunkett created over 100 offences that could be covered by an IPP, most of which related to sexual offences; some violent offences were also included to try and demonstrate that the measure was credible and was not simply the result of a tabloid vendetta against sex offenders; many lawyers however believe it was, in fact, just that.
It is certainly true that IPPs were and are issued primarily against those who abuse ‘children’ (those under 18). Very few are given to other types of offenders, including offenders who rape adults over 18.
How it works – or not
The fact that the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke is currently carrying out a review into the IPP is a clear indication that the Coalition government recognises that there is a problem.
However, to be fair we must also accept that the Labour justice secretary, Jack Straw also recognised that the sentence was not working in the way that was originally intended and even tried to do something about it.
As with life sentences, the IPP sentence is split into two parts; the ‘relevant’ part – the punishment – often called the ‘tariff‘ and the non-punitive part which is supposedly for rehabilitation and risk reduction. In theory, once the tariff is completed, the offender can apply for parole. It is unlikely he will be successful on the first, second or third attempt. He may apply once every 2 years.
Because judges were obliged to pass an IPP if the offence was one ‘prescribed’ in the CJA 2003, the tariff was often very short; the shortest was less than 3 weeks.
As TheOpinionSite.org has pointed out previously, this meant that many IPP prisoners were serving technically short sentences yet being denied the opportunity to ‘progress’ due to the lack of offending behaviour courses, delays in parole hearings, inefficiency in the prisons and lazy, disinterested probation officers.
Straw fought hard in the courts to try to avoid making changes that would upset the tabloids. He lost every case and every appeal until finally the House of Lords – at that time the highest court in the land – ruled that his policy was contrary to the Human Rights Act. The judges described the inability of prisoners to progress as “appalling”.
Straw changed the policy so that IPPs could only be given where a tariff of at least 2 years was justified. Meanwhile, all those already sentenced would stay in prison.
However, there is still no guarantee that the offender will be released or when that might be and he will have to jump through hoops for a long while before he stands any chance at all of convincing the Parole Board that he is safe to release.
An IPP is a life sentence in all but name. It has the same structure as a life sentence, the same criteria for parole, the same limitations on the offender and the same difficulties, in that a prisoner has to try and prove that he is no longer a danger to the public if he is to stand any chance of release. He has to do this whilst being locked up in prison and is largely dependent on reports written by often ill-informed an not very bright prison officers, biased probation officers and psychologists who are unqualified trainees; the Prison Service cannot afford to employ fully qualified Clinical Forensic psychologists.
If, as in most cases with IPP sentences, the offender is convicted of a sexual offence, it is even more difficult for him as, unlike other lifers, he is unlikely to be allowed town visits or home leave and this makes it even more difficult for him to prove his reduction in risk to the public.
So far, less than 6% of IPP prisoners have been released, regardless of tariff. Ken Clarke has said that he has “no intention of letting thousands of dangerous people out onto the streets” but is committed to reviewing the IPP sentence.
He has recognised that in order for IPP prisoners to be released, there has to be less reliance on reports from probation staff and psychologists and is proposing to create a new “release test” that the Parole Board can apply, possibly independently, to all release applications.
This proposal will not go down at all well with those currently responsible for advising on the suitability of a prisoner for release. They enjoy the power they have and will be extremely reluctant to relinquish it. Nevertheless, a formal measure of suitability for release is essential if more indeterminate prisoners are to be released in a manner that satisfies the critics.
As TheOpinionSite.org has recently reported, Clarke is up against very real opposition to his plans from right wing Tories, the child protection industry, prison staff, probation officers, the police and of course, the tabloid press, particularly that owned by Rupert Murdoch.
The consultation is open until March. Once that is concluded, Clarke will have plenty of scope to water down his reforms if he or David Cameron think that they could be politically damaging. Any changes that are made are likely to take years to implement.
Sadly, the bad news therefore is that anyone currently serving an IPP should not expect to be released any time soon unless there is a severe and dramatic change in political will.
Ken Clarke has a lot on his plate at present with the IPP, the voting rights of prisoners, a review of the Sex Offender Register (another problem for many IPP prisoners) and, following the ruling last April by the Supreme Court, the introduction of a mandatory review process to enable registered sex offenders to apply to come off the register.
We at TheOpinionSite.org wish him luck. He’s going to need lots of it.