Skip to main content

Abolishing IPP sentences and missing the point

I read in this morning's Times that Ken Clarke is to abolish imprisonment for the public protection (IPP sentences), which are indeterminate prison sentences - in other words they are a life sentence as an offender must prove that he is safe to be released before he gets out of goal, can pass go and collect £200.

IPP sentences have done an awful lot to overwhelm the Prison Service and Parole Board, and I expect the Probation Service too.  They have, at least, created some much needed work for lawyers and for that I think we must all applaud them (IPPs not lawyers, although if you’re feeling generous…).  Despite the obvious advantages to me and my colleagues, many lawyers have this odd notion that locking people up and throwing away the key isn't the nicest way to treat people.  The people who receive IPP sentences are often not the most serious criminals... if they were then they would have been sentenced to a good old fashioned life sentence, which is a requirement of the Act of Parliament that created IPPs.  I have one client who received an IPP for robbing a man of £10, the force was pushing the victim’s wheelchair a few feet up the road and the theft was taking the £10 note from the man’s shirt pocket.

There are undoubtedly some people for whom an IPP is the right sentence in theory because those people will continue to commit crimes and there is a risk that they will hurt or kill somebody in future.  In theory the IPP allows a person to be held until such time as they have undertaken work and/or treatment that addresses the causes of their criminal behaviour.

The reality of an IPP though is that if you get one then you’ll be given a minimum term that must be served and you can pretty much double that before you have any hope of release. 

The problem with IPPs to my mind is not the sentences themselves - mostly I can see the reasoning behind the judge’s decision to rule that the offender is dangerous, which triggers the imposition of the IPP -  no the real problem, at the point that the Government and some commentators have missed, is that when the Government brought in the IPPs they failed to invest at all in improving the Parole Board so that it had a hope in Hell of keeping up with the huge upsurge in demand for hearings.  They also failed to invest in providing sufficient courses to actually allow prisoners to address the factors that have been said to be behind their criminal behaviour.  At the moment, if you have a 2-year minimum tariff and need to undertake the enhanced thinking skills course, some drug/drink rehab and the anger management course (“Think First”, I think it’s called) then you will only be able to do so if you are lucky enough to end up in a prison that offers all three courses!  If not you will have to make applications to be moved, which takes time and is a very difficult thing to do for somebody who struggles to focus their thoughts and who cannot piece together even a simple strategy for achieving a goal – the clue that they can’t do this is that they have to do the enhanced thinking skills and anger management courses.  There is a very good chance that by the time your minimum term ends that you will not have completed one or all of the required courses, which will result in an almost automatic refusal of parole.  Not that it matters much though, because the Parole Board is so over worked that it’s taking at least a year to have a case listed, which means if you get a 3-year minimum term it’ll be four-years before you get before the Parole Board.

Ken’s plan seems to be to appease the silly old sods - sorry I mean back bench Tory MPs and their grass root support – by “introducing” longer determinate sentences.  This is also silly.

If you are a very naughty boy (or girl) then a nice friendly judge will tell you that you have to go to prison for, say, 6-years.  However, because you had the good sense to instruct me and I told you to ‘fess up you naughty boy, I have managed to secure you a one-third discount from your sentence (although I have to admit that another lawyer could also achieve this result as His Judgelyness is required to discount your sentence in 99.99% of guilty plea cases, I like to think I do it with more style… which is important).  Anyway, because of my excellent work you’re now down to 4-years.  Well hang on a minute DB I hear you cry, I don’t want to be banged up for the next 4-years.  Don’t worry, because it was only His Judgeship who heard the facts and passed sentence and nobody listens to old Judgy.  So, as if by magic (actually it’s by Act of Parliament, but that sounded dull) your four-years automatically becomes 2-years before you’ve even left the building.  Now, my work is done for the day.  But, don’t worry because if you turn over a new leaf and behave yourself inside then you might just be eligible for early release on tag.

Has anybody spotted the clever way that the Government could not increase sentences and yet achieve the same result yet?    You could even have a reward system of earlier release for good behaviour while inside – with the necessary Parole Board investment of course.  Of course, there’s a very good reason why my idea won’t work and that’s because before a newspaper can explain it they have to first explain the current situation.  That’s going to make very dull copy and will not sell papers, so they won’t report it.  This means that Ken doesn’t get his column inches, so gets a telling off from “Call me” Dave.  Because of this the Tory membership will simply see a Government letting people off of IPP sentences and not keeping them locked up.  The lefty papers will take up this mantle and accuse Ken, Dave and the rest of being soft on crime – probably because of the evil Liberal influence – and so they risk losing the next election.  It’s far easier therefore to just do something that requires no explanation in the newspapers beyond “lock ‘em up”.

If Ken or Dave or anybody else would like to hire me as a (slightly angry) consultant to help them formulate policy then I am available at very reasonable rates.


  1. i think these ipp sentences have been a disgrace until these where introduced i always belived in the british leagal system i do not anymore this is a cruel sentence for the ipps and there families as people are serving more then triple there tarrif

    1. No sympathy for the client who robbed a wheelchair user, involving pushing the wheelchair up the road. The amount of money stolen or the distance pushed is not the issue here, but the complete sense of helplessness the victim must have been subjected to. I think it's right that before the person who did that is allowed out, they should first show that they are unlikely to do it again.

  2. How can you show you will not be a criminal again whilst in prison? The ipp sentence is one of the most barbaric feeble sentences ever to be given. The sooner they are abolished it the better. People need a goal to aim for. Judges need to give out a defined sentence.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Ched Evans

Before I begin, I will say that at around 4,500 words this is probably the longest blog I’ve ever posted but I think it’s all necessary to set the scene for this case and explain the background that has been largely ignored or airbrushed in the press. Despite its length, I have not attempted to include every little detail of either fact or law but have done my best to provide a balanced picture of the Ched Evans case, what happened and why the courts reached the decisions they did. There has been so much written about the Ched Evans case over the past weekend, much of it based on a very shaky grasp of the facts and law, that I decided I would read up about the case and weigh in (hopefully on a slightly firmer footing than most of the articles I’ve read so far).

Broadly speaking there seem to be three groups who have opinions on the case:
1.Sexual violence groups (including people describing themselves as “radical feminists”) who appear to take the view that the case is awful, the Court o…

How do the police decide whether to charge a suspect?

A question I’m often asked by clients (and in a roundabout way by people arriving at this blog using searches that ask the question in a variety of ways), is “how do the police decide whether to charge or take no further action (NFA)?”
What are the options?
Let’s have a quick think about what options are available to the police at the end of an investigation.
First, they can charge or report you for summons to attend court.  Charging means that you are given police bail and are required to attend court in person.  A summons is an order from the court for you to attend or for you to send a solicitor on your behalf.  In many cases where a person is summonsed, the court will allow you the option of entering a plea by post.
Second, you may be given a caution.  These can be a simple caution, which on the face of it is a warning not to be naughty in future, or it can be a conditional caution.  Conditions could include a requirement to pay for the cost of damage or compensation, etc.  Either…

Bid to prevent defendants knowing who accuses them of a crime

When I read The Trial by Kafka and Nineteen Eighty-Four by Orwell, I took them as warnings of how a bad justice system wrecks lives of those caught up in it. Sadly, some Members of Parliament and the House of Lords seem to view the books more as a guide to how they would like our Criminal Justice System to run. Today, I read of plans to hide the names of accusers and witnesses from defendants in a large number of cases. Victims of sexual offences, such as rape, have had the right to lifelong anonymity for many years now. This means that it is a criminal offence to publish information that will lead to a complainant being identified. A Bill currently being considered by Parliament would extend that anonymity to bar defendants and their lawyers knowing the name of the person accusing them. This would apply not only in sexual offences, as has been reported in the press, but also in violent offences.
The anonymity currently offered to victims of sexual offences is not total, the complainant…