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Briefing - Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee Stage Part 4, House of Lords (February 2024)

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The Three Key Areas of Focus for Committee Stage (Part 4) in the Lords of the Victims and Prisoners Bill

Attack on Human Rights

Clauses 49-51 disapply Section 3 of the Human Rights Act (HRA); one of the most important elements of the HRA, which requires public authorities and judges to interpret and apply legislation in line with human rights, so far as is possible to do so.

Clause 52 seeks to weight any judicial decision-making on qualified human rights raised in connection to a release decision, such as the rights that relate to prisoners’ family life, their right to liberty or their right to access to courts and a fair hearing, against the prisoner. These clauses relate to release decisions and all the legislation regarding release, license conditions and recall. As such they affect all sentenced prisoners.

Parole Board Independence

Article 5 ECHR is clear that it requires the Parole Board to operate as an independent court and to have the power to make release decisions. Over many years the Parole Board has been reformed to enhance and insulate its independence; often prompted by losses in court where the Board’s setup has been found to violate Article 5 ECHR.5 Despite welcome improvements on what was originally proposed, the present package of measures in Part 4 continue to constitute a regrettable backwards step in that trajectory.

IPP Sentences

We welcome the fact that the government has responded to calls for reform to the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentencing regime. IPP sentences have long been regarded as a major mistake in criminal justice policy in the UK. They were ruled to be in breach of Article 5 ECHR by the European Court of Human Rights back in 2012.7 Yet, while the IPP sentencing regime itself was ended, those people that were previously sentenced under it remained caught by its provisions. The consequences of their continued application have recently been described by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading.’

The Government’s reforms in clause 48 specifically relate to the license period that people released from prison following an IPP sentence will be subject to. In themselves they are a valuable change that will positively impact on a significant proportion of those affected by IPP sentences. However, we support Peers looking to amend this Bill to go further and to substantively address the problem of people that continue to be detained on IPP sentences without ever having been released.

Amnesty International UK Briefing - VICTIMS PRISONERS BILL - HOL COMMITTEE STAGE - Feb 2024.pdf