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The IPP Sentence and the Police Crime and Sentencing Bill – What is happening and how can you help?

The Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill is a proposed new set of laws (and change of existing laws) to manage crime. In this post we explain what is happening with the IPP sentence and the Bill.


You can read about the stages a Bill must pass through to become law (via an Act of Parliament) here. Each crime and justice Act can affect the IPP sentence. The sentence was brought in under the Criminal Justice Act (2003), amended in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (2008) and abolished in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012).


The original Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill had its first reading in March 2021. It did not contain anything about the IPP sentence. As Bills pass through the House of Commons and then the House of Lords, changes (known as ‘amendments’) can be proposed to the original Bill. These are then debated and eventually voted on for inclusion in the Bill.


The Bill is currently at Committee Stage in the House of Lords. This is where peers go through the Bill line by line and debate any proposed amendments. Eight amendments related to the IPP sentence were proposed. They were debated in the House of Lords on Monday 15th November. We now summarise what each one means in plain English, what the Government said about them, and what happened to each one.


You can watch the whole debate here or read it here. There was a high degree of support for the amendments from peers, who spoke strongly in their favour. In the House of Lords, there is cross-party support for changes to the IPP sentence.



Amendment 208A


In plain English: Within six months, the Government would have to carry out a review of supervision and resettlement arrangements for people serving an IPP sentence.


This is known as a probing amendment. Probing amendments are put forward without the intention of trying to push them through into law. They are used to create space for discussing a specific point, and because the Government has to respond, they are useful for clarifying what the Government’s position is on a particular matter. Knowing their position can help to better target areas for change.


What did the Government say? The Government’s view was communicated by Lord Wolfson, who acts as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice and represents them in the House of Lords. In response to this amendment, he stated that while the Government recognised that there were areas of the sentence that needed further wok, the Government’s IPP Action Plan was working well. He also stated that the upcoming Justice Select Committee inquiry into the IPP sentence meant that a separate investigation was not needed.


What happened to the amendment? Because it was a probing amendment and the Government responded, the amendment was withdrawn.



Amendment 208B


In plain English: Within six months, the Government would have to carry out a review of sentence progression and support for people serving an IPP sentence.


What did the Government say? The Government’s response to this amendment was the same as for 208A.


What happened to the amendment? Every amendment except 208A was ‘not moved’. That technically means it wasn’t debated, and remains on the table. However, every amendment was actually discussed under the remit of 208A. What this means in practice is that any of the amendments except 208A could be put forward for peers to vote on including in the Bill. The peers who proposed the amendments are now working together to decide which amendments they will take forward to the next stage. It is unlikely that 208B will be taken forward as it was also a probing amendment, and the Government responded.



Amendment 208C


In plain English: Within six months, the Government would have to carry out a review of supervision and resettlement arrangements for people serving an IPP sentence, focusing particularly on the support and resources available to them.


What did the Government say? The Government’s response to this amendment was the same as for 208A.


What happened to the amendment? As with 208B, 208C was ‘not moved’ and remains on the table, but as it was also a probing amendment it is not likely to go forward.


Amendment 208D


In plain English: Under current law, a person serving an IPP sentence can apply to have their licence terminated (effectively: end their sentence) ten years after their first release from prison. This is decided by the Parole Board. This amendment proposes reducing the waiting time (referred to as the 'qualifying period') from ten years to five years. It also proposes automatic referral to the Parole Board, rather than the person having to apply, and an automatic re-referral every 12 months if they are unsuccessful the first time.


What did the Government say? The Government do not believe this amendment is necessary. They believe that the number of applications to lift the licence in the coming years will not be affected by needing to apply, and that it is people’s responsibility to know how to get their licence lifted. Lord Wolfson stated that the Probation Service will be making every effort to contact those eligible to apply at the ten year point. The Government does not believe that reducing the waiting period to five years is necessary because licences are a 'vital part of long-term rehabilitation and public protection' and because people can apply to have the supervisory element of their licence lifted after five years already. The Government believes that living under a licence without supervision is 'not onerous'. The Government also believes that allowing applications for termination at the five year point would 'cause the Parole Board to consider many cases that have little chance of success'.


What happened to the amendment? The amendment was ‘not moved’ which means it may be taken forward to the next stage. This is likely to be one of the amendments that peers consider taking forward.



Amendment 208E


In plain English: Within six months, the Government would have to carry out a review of sentence progression and support for people serving an IPP sentence, with a particular focus on the opportunities available to them.


What did the Government say? The Government’s response to this amendment was the same as for 208A.


What happened to the amendment? As with 208B and 208C, 208E was ‘not moved’ and remains on the table, but as it was also a probing amendment it is not likely to go forward.



Amendment 208F


In plain English: Under current law, everyone serving an IPP sentence in prison must be detained in prison unless the Parole Board is satisfied that they do not pose a serious risk of harm to the public, and the burden rests on the person in prison to prove that they do not pose such a risk. This amendment proposes that for people who have served the maximum available determinate sentence for their crime or who have served 10 or more years beyond their tariff (whichever comes first), release must be directed unless the ‘detaining authority’ can prove that it is necessary to keep that person confined because of the risk of serious harm that they pose. Basically: the burden would fall on the state to prove risk, rather than the person in prison proving no risk.


What did the Government say? The Government believe that changing the burden of proof would make no difference to release rates, because the Parole Board would still be doing the same assessment of risk.


What happened to the amendment? The amendment was ‘not moved’ which means it may be taken forward to the next stage. This is likely to be one of the amendments that peers consider taking forward.



Amendment 208G


In plain English: Under current law, a person serving an IPP sentence can apply to have their licence terminated (effectively: end their sentence) ten years after their first release from prison. This is decided by the Parole Board. This amendment proposes ending the licence automatically, without Parole Board involvement, two years after a person is released from prison, if they have not been recalled during that time. However, the Secretary of State may ask the Parole Board to consider extending the licence by a further 12 months if they think that the person poses a serious ongoing risk to the public. If a person is recalled within the two year period, that period starts again when they are re-released unless the Parole Board says it can be shorter.


What did the Government say? Lord Wolfson made a number of comments about the recall system which seem to indicate that the Government thinks it is effective and working as intended, but also stated that the Government agrees that there are problems with the current system and they are 'looking into it'. The Government does not think that the mechanisms proposed in this amendment would constitute adequate protection of the public.


What happened to the amendment? The amendment was ‘not moved’ which means it may be taken forward to the next stage. This is likely to be one of the amendments that peers consider taking forward.



Amendment 208H


In plain English: Under current law, people recalled to prison on the IPP sentence can only be released by the Parole Board. This amendment proposes giving the Secretary of State greater discretionary powers to swiftly re-release people recalled on an IPP sentence if they are satisfied that the person does not pose a serious risk of harm to the public.


What did the Government say? There was no reference to this amendment in Lord Wolfson’s response.


What happened to the amendment? The amendment was ‘not moved’ which means it may be taken forward to the next stage. This is likely to be one of the amendments that peers consider taking forward.



If you would like to read the amendments in their full form, you can read them here.


If you didn’t know that under current law, people serving an IPP sentence can apply to have their licence terminated ten years after their first release from prison, you can read the guidance for Parole Board members here and the HMPPS policy on having the supervisory element of the licence lifted after five years here.


We are currently busy with the Inquiry, but our priority following that is to make sure that everybody serving an IPP sentence understands that these options are available to them, and to produce some accessible guidance.



What has UNGRIPP been doing in relation to the amendments?


We have briefed all of the peers who have proposed the amendments and the peers who have historically been supportive of changes to the IPP sentence. We have set out why we support the amendments, and what people serving the IPP sentence and their families tell us about the changes they would like to happen. We have stated that our preference – and the majority preference of families that are in contact with us – continues to be a determinate resentencing exercise, and a post-release period that includes a substantial support package. We are disappointed that neither of these changes feature in the amendments, but we do welcome the attention to the problems of indeterminacy, recall, and the problems of demonstrating reduced risk. We are grateful for the hard work of Lord Blunkett in tabling these amendments, and for keeping the plight of people serving an IPP sentence and their families visible.


We will shortly be writing to Lord Wolfson, the Government’s representative in the Lords, to brief him on the position of families, and on our response to the Government’s position on the amendments.



How can you help?


Keep talking to us. We need to know what you think so that we can communicate that to the people who are making decisions.


Keep talking to peers. If you watched or read the debate, tell peers your thoughts on what they said, and which amendments you support and why. You can find a list of who spoke and their contact details here.


Keep talking to the Inquiry. The House of Commons Justice Select Committee is also holding an inquiry into the IPP sentence. If you haven’t submitted evidence yet, you still have until 22nd November (people in prison have until 30th November). Tell them which amendments you support, and any solutions that you think are better. They are particularly keen to hear which solutions have support. Submit evidence here.


Read our guide for families on submitting evidence here. If you’re in touch with someone serving an IPP sentence in prison, print off and send them our guide for how they can submit evidence.


Keep talking with strength, certainty and dignity, and remain united. Part of our work is persuading officials to take the views of people serving the IPP sentence and their families seriously, as citizens of society with a stake in our justice system and a right to express their views about it. We are grateful to everyone who takes the time to tell their story and to say what they think needs to change. Please keep going.

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