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Determinate and Indeterminate Sentences and Recalled Prisoners

Volume 566: debated on Thursday 11 July 2013

I have written to Sir David Calvert-Smith, chairman of the Parole Board for England and Wales, advising him that it is our intention to withdraw the Secretary of State’s directions to the Parole Board in respect of the release of determinate sentence, indeterminate sentence and recalled prisoners. The directions in respect of Parole Board recommendations on the transfer of indeterminate sentence prisoners to open conditions will remain in force.

The Parole Board has the important responsibility of determining whether some of the most dangerous prisoners in the criminal justice system can be safely released back into the community. We have recently enacted legislation in the form of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 which contains a clear and consistent statutory release test that the board must apply in making those decisions—that is, the board must not direct a prisoner’s release unless their detention is no longer necessary for the protection of the public. The LASPO Act applies this “public protection” test to all cases which come before the board and also provides a power for the Secretary of State to amend the test by order. In view of this, I consider that it is no longer necessary or appropriate for the directions to remain in place.

In its original incarnation, the board was an advisory body which made recommendations to the Secretary of State who was responsible for the final decisions on release. It was in this context that the power for the Secretary of State to issue directions to the board was established. Since then, however, the board has evolved into an independent decision-making body. I believe that it is more appropriate, therefore, for the board to set its own guidance in relation to the application of the statutory release test that Parliament has put in place.

We are, therefore, withdrawing the existing directions in favour of the Parole Board applying its own guidance. The board issued guidance for its members in November 2012 which sets out how the statutory release test in the LASPO Act is to be applied. In addition, the board has produced guidance which lists the factors to be taken into account by panels when considering whether to release different categories of prisoner. This list largely reflects the same factors set out in the Secretary of State’s directions, so in practical terms the withdrawal of the directions will not materially change how the board approaches its release decisions. I should like to emphasise that the protection of the public will remain at the heart of every release decision made by the board.

Copies of the Parole Board’s guidance have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.