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Reform of problematic UK sentencing system welcome but bolder action needed says UN Special Rapporteur on torture

08 December 2023

GENEVA (8 December 2023) – The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Jill Edwards, today welcomed partial reforms adopted by the UK’s House of Commons to the controversial Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentencing system that will more than halve the amount of time prisoners provisionally released from detention have to wait for their sentences to be reviewed with a view to being terminated.

The Government’s reforms bring the review period from 10 years to 3, Edwards said, but more needed to be done to end the enduring uncertainty for those still imprisoned.

“The changes adopted by the House of Commons on 4 December are very welcome as they provide a clearer process towards resolving the situation of approximately 1,800 individuals currently serving their sentences in the community,” said Edwards.

“However, for a large cohort of prisoners still imprisoned under IPP sentences there is no such certainty. They remain subject to indefinite detention – many of them for relatively minor crimes – a situation wholly incompatible with the rule of law.

Their sentences should be promptly reviewed as the next stage in closing this terrible chapter in the UK’s criminal justice system,” Edwards said.

The revised measures were adopted by the House of Commons and will now proceed to the House of Lords.

Under the IPP system, mandatory indefinite sentences were handed down for any of at least 50 serious crimes in England and Wales between 2005 and 2012. A total of 8,711 people were sentenced under the scheme, a larger than expected number. According to the latest UK government statistics, close to 1,250 individuals remained in custody on IPP sentences by the end of September this year. Over 700 individuals are more than ten years past their original tariff.

With the changes, in the event that the sentences of individuals provisionally released from prison are not terminated three years following their release, they would automatically terminate after a further two years.

“IPP sentences have led to extreme anguish and mental illness as was made clear by the disclosure during the Commons’ debate that eight IPP prisoners had committed suicide in the last 12 months -- a deeply troubling statistic,” said the expert.

“The UK, as a society with a strong rule of law tradition, has measures in place to protect the community after individuals are released. It must reject the misleading public safety arguments against reviewing these unfair sentences and review all such sentences. Locking people up -- and in effect throwing away the keys -- is not a solution legally or morally.”

“While the adopted new changes will provide great relief to many, bolder action is still needed from the UK government to fully repair the injustice done to many more by the IPP system,” Edwards said.

The Special Rapporteur participated in a briefing to members of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group on 4 December in London ahead of the debate and has offered her advice to the Government. In August, together with other special procedures mandate holders, she sent a letter to the UK Government on this matter. They still await a formal reply.

Dr. Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – United Kingdom

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Alessandro Marra ([email protected] /+41 22 928 93 21)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts
The Special Rapporteur on Torture is on Twitter: @DrAliceJEdwards

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