All 1 Lord Woodley contributions to the Victims and Prisoners Bill 2022-23

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Tue 12th Mar 2024

Victims and Prisoners Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Lord Woodley Excerpts
It is also quite a palaver to secure an affirmative order; it is not that simple and there are a lot of processes to be gone through. Also, it would require a one-hour debate in your Lordships’ House. Assuming any change was desirable, it might be simpler to use a suitable Bill to effect any change needed.
Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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My Lords, I support this group of amendments. I support of all the IPP amendments debated now and later this evening. First, I express my sincere regret for being unable to speak at Second Reading, as this is a subject, as colleagues know, that is very dear to me and of great interest to me and I have raised several times in your Lordships’ House.

I had the humbling experience of meeting and listening to former IPP prisoners, who had served from five to ten years more than their minimum sentence, and family members of prisoners who have served more than 15 years over tariff. I have to tell the Committee that it was a heart-breaking occasion, knowing that there was no end to their injustice in sight, no hope for the thousands of prisoners and family members who are treated so inhumanely, not enough courses to help them to apply for a review and not enough opportunities within the justice system to even give them a review.

As has been mentioned, IPPs were abolished over a decade ago, so how on earth can it be that so many people—almost 3,000 of them—are still living through this never-ending nightmare? I agree with the Justice Select Committee and the UN special rapporteur on torture that resentencing represents the only way forward for resolving the IPP scandal and for justice at long last to be done.

Importantly, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, mentioned, we must not forget the psychological effects of IPPs on prisoners and families alike, as the Justice Committee’s report so vividly highlighted and has been further demonstrated by the high number of suicides that we have tragically seen. Likewise, the UN special rapporteur, Dr Alice Jill Edwards, describes IPPs as “psychological torture” and says it is

“tragic that so many mental health challenges appear to have been caused—or at least aggravated—by the uncertainty of indeterminate sentences”.

I agree with that. This is a miscarriage of justice on an industrial scale. It may not presently have the profile of the Post Office scandal, but nevertheless it is a cruel injustice that has gone on for far too long.

I understand—as, again, has just been mentioned—that both Front Benches have previously been resistant to resentencing on the grounds of public safety. Of course, in an election year no one wants to look soft on crime. However, to quote Dr Edwards:

“It is the responsibility of the UK government to protect public safety, but citing this as the reason not to review IPP sentences is misleading. The UK, like any society with a strong rule of law, has measures to protect the community after prisoners are released. Locking people up and ‘throwing away the keys’ is not a legal or moral solution”

to this terrible problem. I agree, but if either Front Bench is still in need of more political cover to do the right thing, I suggest that Amendment 167C in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which we will come to soon, fits the bill. That amendment would delay resentencing until the chief inspector was satisfied that the Probation Service could adequately protect the public following any resentencing exercise. The long- overdue release and justice for IPP prisoners should not be blocked over the excuse that the Probation Service cannot cope, but Amendment 167C might be the compromise needed to unlock that puzzle—a pathway out of this political impasse. I sincerely hope it is.

I urge the Committee to summon the post-war spirit of 1945 and back Amendment 167C from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I know that IPP prisoners and their families are watching us here, hoping but also fearing what might be coming round the corner. Our Parliament must strike up the courage to act and correct the injustices that we can all see if we just open our eyes.

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
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My Lords, I too support this array of amendments on IPP, both the current amendments and the ones that will follow. As the Committee will know, I am a regular visitor—twice a month—to prisons across the UK, and I will visit another one tomorrow morning. On a regular basis—two a month—I meet many incarcerated men and sometimes women, and many who have left prison over the last 10 years, and I have found relentless IPP tragedies around every corner.

I shall refer to one story from a meeting in December, when a man came up to me and said that he had been released from an IPP sentence 14 years ago but was recalled back to prison in September after he forgot to inform his then probation officer that he had gone on holiday with his wife in August for two weeks to Spain. This is just sheer stupidity, let alone the fact that this system is organising to persecute people compared with recognising their renewal. In his case, and not just because I have now met him twice, he does not deserve the taxpayer to spend nearly £50,000 for an extended period to make sure that he is further detained and punished.

I hope the Minister will gather up all his strength and either accept this array of amendments in one gulp or go back to the Lord Chancellor and determine to bring back an effective set of government amendments that will allow us to end this appalling stain of injustice and unfairness. Another man I met eight years ago from a prison in Kent had been recalled three times. From an initial sentence of seven years, he had done over 24. The persecution of this man’s mental abilities was blatantly obvious; he was no risk to anyone. I can tell noble Lords that since we campaigned for his release, and he has been released, he is an honourable citizen paying his taxes. That is how we should treat many of these men—they are largely men—to see that they are given the opportunity to prove their new life.