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UNGRIPP supports new legal challenge to overturn IPP sentences

Mercy: Compassionate treatment or attitude towards an offender, who is in one’s power or care.”

Collins English Dictionary

Today, on the eve of ten years since its abolition, UNGRIPP has supported the launch of a fresh legal challenge to the IPP sentence. Ten years ago, IPP reached the European Court of Human Rights in the case of James, Wells and Lee. The Court ruled that their plight constituted arbitrary detention. Following this ruling, the Government abolished the IPP sentence. But a decade later, thousands of people are still serving it, and their suffering has only increased.

Ten years later, we’re supporting three people affected by IPP to pursue legal routes to overturn their arbitrary detention.

We acknowledge the bravery and determination of the three people who are putting their cases forward. We are also very grateful for legal support from Dean Kingham, of Reece Thomas Watson solicitors.

The challenge takes the form of an application to the Justice Secretary, asking for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to be applied to three people serving IPP. The first person received a tariff of 1 year, 7 months and 27 days. He has served more than 15 years in prison. The second person received a tariff of 2 years, 3 months and 3 days. He has also served 15 years in prison. The third person received a tariff of 8 years, and has also served 15 years in prison.

Ten years ago, the ECHR ruled that IPP constituted arbitrary punishment, due to the lack of meaningful rehabilitative opportunities. In the application to the Justice Secretary, Dean Kingham points out that:

  • As of 30th June 2022, just 3% of people in prison serving IPP were on the waiting list to access an offending behaviour programme.

  • On the same date, nearly 20% of people serving IPP were housed in local prisons, which are inappropriate for rehabilitative provision.

  • The current poor state of the prison system prevents access to meaningful rehabilitation.

  • Deterioration in mental health caused by the IPP sentence impacts on people’s progress, and ability to access rehabilitative opportunities.

Professionals have stated that the three applicants have completed all required core risk reduction work. Yet they continue to be held in unsuitable establishments, and not supported to progress. They are being denied opportunities due to them, and continue to be held arbitrarily. In ten years, little has changed.

The Royal Prerogative of Mercy is regarded as an exceptional remedy, applied only sparingly. It is an historic power of the British monarch, who can pardon people convicted of offences. The Justice Secretary is responsible for recommending its use to the King.

There are two types of pardon that can be applied: a Free Pardon (complete removal of a sentence) or a Conditional Pardon (commuting a sentence to a lesser punishment). It has two functions: an act of forgiveness and/or acknowledgement of a mistake. It allows for compassion and common sense in cases where people have been too heavily punished.

In case law, the Prerogative of Mercy has been described as “more than an arbitrary monarchical right of grace and favour. It is…a constitutional safeguard against mistakes.” [Bentley 1994]. In the letter to the Justice Secretary, Dean Kingham argues that the Royal Prerogative of Mercy is “a form of natural justice: to act fairly, in good faith, and without bias, to rescue a person from the cruelty of unmerited punishment.”

Historically, the Prerogative has been used in a wide range of circumstances beyond wrongful conviction, including acknowledgment of when mental illness and/or cognitive limitations have been poorly recognised.

The three applicants are asking the Justice Secretary to recommend them for a Conditional Pardon: to commute their sentences to a lesser punishment. To do so would solidify the Government’s existing acknowledgement that the IPP sentence was a mistake, and remedy that mistake in a meaningful way. It would rescue people from the cruelty of IPP, which has been widely condemned as a much too severe punishment for most, particularly those who were given short tariffs. It is also a legal route to remedying the desperate situation of people whose mental health has significantly deteriorated due to the IPP sentence, and those who struggle to navigate the system due to cognitive issues.

IPP is cruel, heavy-handed, arbitrary, and unmerciful in its effects. We are supporting people to ask for the State and the Monarch to apply something which is in their hand to give: mercy. The Government has acknowledged that IPP is wrong. We will keep pressuring them to put it right.

How can you help?

You can help us put pressure on the Secretary of State to recommend these three cases for Mercy. Tweet @DominicRaab and say you support #mercyforIPPs. And remind him that you support the JSC recommendation to #resentenceIPPs too.

Write to your MP with a copy of this blog post, saying you support the Mercy applications. If they don’t know about IPP, you can use one of our template letters with an attached factsheet:

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