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Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentences

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The letter was in response to an ECJF meeting where the Norwich Resident Judge, His Honour Stephen Holt spoke about Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) prisoners.

The IPP Sentence was introduced in 2005. In 2012 the Coalition government decided that IPP’s were not defensible and they were abolished.

However, this was not dealt with in a retrospective way and there are currently still 2400 prisoners still under IPP sentences.

The ECJF Forum decided, as a group, to highlight the injustice of these sentences. The group met and it was decided to gather information and put together a paper to present to as many relevant bodies as possible in a way that would promote the urgent action needed to address this issue.

Below is a copy of the letter that was sent:

Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentences

We write on behalf of the Ecumenical Criminal Justice Forum in the Diocese of Norwich.

The Ecumenical Criminal Justice Forum was established by the Bishop of Rochester, James Langstaff (then Bishop of Lynn) as part of the response of the Diocese of Norwich to Social and Community Concerns in Norfolk and Waveney and continues under the chairmanship of Paddy Seligman with the support of the present Bishop of Lynn and the Diocesan Coordinator for Community and Environmental concerns.

The forum meets three or four times a year and brings together a variety of professionals and volunteers in the field of criminal justice, including the probation and prison services, the police, the judiciary, and agencies concerned with victim support, mental health and addictions, rehabilitation of ex-offenders and other specialist areas.

At our most recent meeting the guest speaker was the Norwich Resident Judge His Honour Stephen Holt who spoke about the, as he sees it, obvious injustice that some prisoners are currently subjected to. The IPP Sentence was introduced in 2005 and the Coalition government decided in 2012 that IPPs were not defensible and they were abolished. However, this was not dealt with in a retrospective way.

We note that previous Home Secretaries, Ken Clarke and Michael Gove have helpfully made suggestions to alleviate the problems i.e. suggesting the use of Executive Clemency etc. and release but none have been accepted by any government. Their attempts demonstrate a growing unease about the situation which we share.

In March 2019 (House of Commons Briefing Paper 6 June 2019 ) there were approximately 2400 prisoners serving IPP Sentences. The majority were over the Tariff set by the courts. Many of these prisoners were given fairly short Tariffs and are unable to achieve the Rehabilitation courses and Accredited Offender Behaviour Programmes set out in their Prison Sentence Plans.

Therefore, through no fault of their own and largely because the Prison Service does not have the capacity or resources to put on the required courses, prisoners are unable to satisfy the criteria for release.

The question then arises, how does a prisoner ‘prove’ their suitability for release without the results from a course.

The Prison Reform Trust has recently published a report:Prison: the facts, Bromley Briefings Summer 2019.

And a report which goes back to 2016 by the Prison Reform Trust makes an interesting read:

We recognize that the main criteria for release must always be that the prisoner demonstrates that he/she is no longer a risk to society and these assessments are carried out by the Offender Managers in the prisons.

The main delay in releasing of IPP Prisoners appears to be a log jam at the Parole Board and this requires very urgent attention as in many cases it is manifestly unfair on the prisoners held over their Tariff.

The Secretary of State, by S. 128 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 has power to change the test for release on licence of certain prisoners (including IPP prisoners) by Order. The clause allows the Justice Secretary to alter the test which the Parole Board must apply when releasing prisoners.

Both houses of Parliament would have to agree to the change, but fresh legislation would not be required.

The Supreme Court can affect the behaviour of the Parole Board (the decision in Osborn, Booth and Reilly v The Parole Board [2013] UKSC 61 resulted in oral rather than paper hearings).

There is some evidence that progress is being made to release IPP Prisoners in that the Prison, Probation and Parole Board are working closely together to improve the situation.

It is considered that urgent action must take place for the IPP Prisoners because it is manifestly unfair to keep prisoners in custody over their Tariff if they have complied with all the requirements for release.


  1. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice consider legislative intervention to convert post tariff IPP sentences to determinate sentences- a simple solution providing firm release dates.
  2. Risk Assessments by Offender Managers in Prisons must be given greater priority, credence and authority
  3. The Prison Service should be given the appropriate resources to give IPP Prisoners opportunity to attend Rehabilitation Courses and placed on appropriate Accredited Programmes to address their Offending Behaviour for an opportunity to gain release. If the Prison Service cannot provide these resources, the prisoners should not be penalised.
  4. The Parole Board membership must be increased and devote the extra resources to addressing the problems of these IPP Prisoners’ cases.
  5. If the prisoners have completed all that is required of them and the Risk Assessment is satisfactory, but the Parole Board has insufficient resources to consider their cases, then some form of Executive Release should be considered by the Government.

We feel this should have been addressed ten years ago but the issue is yet to be resolved.

Such was the strength of feeling among those present at the meeting that we have resolved as a group to try to do something about the present situation.

Yours sincerely

Bishop Jonathan Meyrick, Revd Canon Chris Copsey, Mrs PA Seligman OBE JP DL