Ken Clarke’s proposals on IPPs deserve a heartfelt welcome

The Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, introduced his proposals for reform of sentencing policy in the house of commons this afternoon (7 Dec 2010).  These concentrated on reducing re-offending by more effective rehabilitation of offenders in and outside prison, and ensuring that people who should not be in prison are no longer sent there.  His proposals for reform of ‘Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection’ (IPPs)  include drastically reducing to the most serious violent or sexual offences the range of crimes for which IPPs are awarded , and giving more realistic guidance to parole boards to  “focus indefinite imprisonment on those who clearly pose a very serious risk of future harm” — by implication removing the onus on the IPP prisoner to satisfy the parole board that he will not reoffend if released, and instead setting demanding conditions for refusing to release post-tariff IPP prisoners.

In his parliamentary statement and in reply to numerous mostly positive questions, Mr Clarke placed heavy emphasis on the need to punish offenders and repeatedly ridiculed any suggestion that his proposals would entail the release of thousands of murderers and rapists onto the streets.  But the substance of his proposals, including those on IPPs, is strikingly liberal and enlightened.  They will clearly be ferociously resisted by the obscurantists on the right wing of the Tory party and by the most reactionary of the tabloids, so their publication in much the form that has been foreshadowed in the past few months is an act of considerable courage on the part of both Ken Clarke and the prime minister.   The proposals are now published in a government Green Paper for public consultation until 4 March 2011, and comments from interested persons and organisations as well as from private citizens are invited.  The Green Paper lists 59 specific questions to which replies and reactions are invited.  None of these relates specifically to IPPs.

The initial response of the Labour opposition to Ken Clarke’s statement was, in my view, disappointing.  Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary, concentrated on accusing Clarke of abandoning all the pledges in the Conservatives’ election manifesto designed to demonstrate a commitment to being “tough on crime” (in reply Clarke pointed out that Sadiq Khan had not criticised or opposed a single one of his specific Green Paper proposals, which was true, later claiming equally credibly that there was widespread support for his new approach in all three major parties in the house of commons).  Sadiq Khan was of course in a difficulty:  to have given the unreserved welcome to the proposals that they manifestly deserve would have been taken as a repudiation of the record of a succession of Labour home secretaries and justice secretaries, some of whom are still members of parliament.  One of them — Jack Straw, predictably — claimed that the measures envisaged by Clarke would probably result in an increase in crime, a singularly ill-judged and unhelpful intervention in a situation where Ed Miliband’s new start requires a discreet abandonment and implicit repudiation of New Labour’s authoritarian and illiberal assaults on basic civil liberties when in office.  Clarke’s new approach very clearly deserves strong support and the Labour party’s willingness to give it will be a vital litmus test of whether it has learned any lessons from past betrayals.

The Green Paper, ‘Breaking the Cycle Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders’, is online at (PDF).  It runs to 96 pages and it will take some time to absorb it in detail.  Its comments and proposals on IPPs are quoted in full below.  They demonstrate that Clarke and his colleagues and officials have taken careful note of the powerful case against IPPs and especially against the way they are currently used, involving real injustice, even cruelty, for many of those serving them.  The logical implication of the Green Paper’s own criticisms of IPPs is that the whole system should be abandoned.  This however is clearly politically impossible.  Given that IPPs are bound to continue in some form, Clarke’s proposals for reforming them are as good as we could possibly have expected, and far better than many of us feared.   Here are the passages on IPPs:

40. Chapter 4 sets out proposals to reform adult sentencing so that we: …

–  reserve Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPP) for the most serious offenders, and reform the release test applied by the Parole Board to strike a better balance. This will focus indefinite punishment on those who most clearly pose a very serious risk of future harm;

173. There has not been enough clarity in the way that prison sentences have been explained to victims and public. This has created confusion about how sentences work…  This confusion has been exacerbated by the … growth in the use of indeterminate sentences where release is at the discretion of the Parole Board and no-one is clear how long the offender will actually spend in custody.

183. Public safety remains our primary concern and indeterminate sentences will always be appropriate for the most serious crimes. The Government has no intention of changing life sentences. However, we believe that indeterminate sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPPs) should only be available for the most dangerous offenders. These sentences are imposed subject to an assessment of what offenders might do in the future rather than based simply on what they have actually done. Release is not automatic, but is at the discretion of the Parole Board.

184. The sentence of IPP was introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and has been used on a much wider basis than expected. IPP prisoners are required to serve a minimum term after which the Parole Board can decide whether or not they are suitable for release. It was only intended and expected to be used in a limited number of cases, but there are already around 6,000 prisoners on an IPP sentence.

185. The current arrangements require offenders to satisfy the Parole Board that they do not present unmanageable risk in the community. Demonstrating this negative criterion can be extremely difficult which has led to a very low release rate of about 5%.

186. The limitations in our ability to predict future serious offending also calls into question the whole basis on which many offenders are sentenced to IPPs and, among those who are already serving these sentences, which of them are suitable for release.

187. The widespread use of IPPs has also further confused the sentencing framework, and can undermine public confidence since the court, the victim and the public have little or no means of knowing how long an individual spell in custody is likely to last or whether it will ever end.

188. It is also important that those who receive IPPs are able to reform themselves and that proper arrangements are in place for their rehabilitation. The larger the number of prisoners who are subject to the sentence, the more difficult this becomes.

189. For all these reasons, we believe that there is a strong case for ensuring IPPs are restricted to the exceptionally serious cases for which they were originally intended. We intend to bring forward reforms in order to achieve that. The previous Government took steps towards this in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 by removing the option to impose the sentence on those who would not otherwise have merited a sentence of at least four years (two in custody with the remainder on licence) but they are still used too widely.

190. This Government intends to restrict the sentence to those who would otherwise have merited a determinate sentence of at least ten years (i.e. at least five years in prison and the remainder on licence). This change ensures that the sentence applies to serious rather than broad categories of crime and will capture very serious sexual and violent offenders. Offenders who no longer receive an IPP would instead receive a determinate custodial sentence for the crime for which they have been convicted …

191. When IPP prisoners are released they are managed in the community under robust licence arrangements. All IPP offenders are also subject to Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements. The Parole Board performs a vital public protection function, but we need to consider whether the release test it applies for IPP prisoners achieves the right balance. Currently, the Parole Board is only able to release a prisoner where it is satisfied that the risk of doing so is considered to be no more than minimal. For an offender who has already been convicted of a serious offence, it can be extremely difficult to demonstrate minimal risk of re-offending particularly whilst the offender is living in the closed prison environment.

192. At least 40% (over 2,400) of IPP prisoners have already completed the minimum punishment term of their sentence in custody, known as the tariff.

193. We are exploring whether a new test for those who have served their punishment would focus indefinite imprisonment on those who clearly pose a very serious risk of future harm. There is no question of releasing any IPP offender into the community without some clear assessment of risk. The Parole Board would still refuse to release offenders where it is clear that this was necessary to keep the public safe.

227. … We also plan to change the law to provide for foreign nationals who are IPP prisoners to be removed from the UK at tariff expiry.

250.Consistently with the proposals for adult sentencing set out in Chapter 4 we also propose to make the following further changes:
…reform Detention for Public Protection (the juvenile equivalent of IPP) in line with the reforms for adult Indeterminate Public Protection sentences; …

We may expect a blizzard of misrepresentation (and rather less misunderstanding) of these and the Green Paper’s other proposals, accompanied by the usual knee-jerk populist (and entirely false) accusations that any liberalisation of policy of the kind envisaged is “soft on crime”, neglects the rights of victims, and will unleash huge gangs of violent crooks and paedophiles into the community.  All the more reason for those of us who welcome the Green Paper (and wish it had been the product of a similarly enlightened Labour government) to respond positively to the invitation to contribute to the public debate on it, both by sending messages of strong but very specific support to the Ministry of Justice (see addresses below) but also by sending letters to the newspapers, especially in reply to ignorant attacks by others) and writing to one’s MP or to the shadow Justice Secretary to urge all-party endorsement of what, in the circumstances, is a brave and indeed revolutionary set of enlightened ideas for remedying many of the defects in the justice system bequeathed by New Labour.

Here is the Green Paper on responses to the consultation initiated by its publication today:

306. The consultation period will end on 4 March 2011, at which point all of the responses received will be analysed and considered.

307. Responses to the consultation can be submitted directly through the Ministry of Justice website at, via email to or by post to Breaking the Cycle, Ministry of Justice, 10.08, 10th Floor, 102 Petty France, London, SW1H 9AJ.

Finally, I should stress that these can only be one person’s instant reaction, written within a couple of hours of listening to the mini-debate in parliament and skimming through the Green Paper’s 96 pages.  No doubt more careful study will reveal flaws and ambiguities that will need to be resolved or remedied.  Still, I have no doubt that the general thrust is to be welcomed and supported, and that the specific proposals on IPPs, if implemented, will eventually remove most, if not quite all, of that system’s worst and most repressive features.  But it will take time.

Footnote (9 December 2010):  For examples of the hardship and injustice that IPPs are liable to inflict (on the relatives of offenders as well as on the offenders themselves), please see the three case histories recorded by Charlotte Rowles on the Guardian website on 7 December.


64 Responses

  1. Sima Khan says:

    Hello everyone. Its nice to see new comments on this site. I got worried for a while. Has anybody read the article on the about the delays on IPP’S.  Brian please can you explain what this article means for all of us. Thank you.

    Brian writes: The article seems to me self-explanatory, but also unnecessarily impatient and critical. To describe the supposed delay as evidence of ‘dithering’ is unwarranted: obviously ministers will choose the most appropriate time to release proposals that are likely to be controversial and difficult to sell, especially to their own supporters. The article quotes no source for the suggestion that the Justice Minister’s proposals following the period of consultation on the Green Paper were expected now or that their publication has been postponed. I think we just have to wait until the outcome of the Green Paper consultations is published. It would be surprising if the proposals on IPPs were to be published ahead of the other Green Paper proposals. (But others may have other information?)

  2. wendi says:

    HI ALL
    Just letting you know that in Aprils Inside time there are two very good articles first written by Lorna Elliot from Emmersons solicitors  the second from Charlotte Rowles.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Wendi. The excellent articles in question are at


    (It’s helpful if comments recommending articles that are available on the Web would include their website addresses as links.) The first of these is an edited version of the submission to the Ministry of Justice on its Green Paper by the admirable Emmersons Solicitors who had studied more than 800 representations from IPP prisoners and their families as a basis for their submission.

  3. wendi says:

    IPP 29th march2011 House of commons debate (they work for

  4. wendi says:

    Hi all
    Has anybody read these 3 artiicles?
    Kenneth Clarkes sentencing reforms denounced by judges
    Bedfordshire local news, headlines Liver splitter gets indefinite prison sentence overturned
    Rapist wins cut in jail sentence  there maybe hope for our loved one yet

    Brian writes: Thank you for these. The first one mentioned is at and doesn’t appear to be related to IPPs: it’s mainly questioning the MoJ idea of giving more weight to the views of victims in sentencing.

  5. wendi says:

    HI ALL
    I have just been on Emmersons solicitors facebook and found , parole board corporate reports some of it is quite interesting

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Wendi. I think the reference is to this (pdf).

  6. wendi says:

    HI ALL
    Got another article for you

    Brian writes: Thank you very much for this, Wendi. It’s certainly an interesting and important case, which should make judges think twice and study the evidence carefully before imposing an IPP in future. The comment on the Appeal Court’s decision to quash the IPP and substitute instead a determinate sentence which meant the immediate release of the prisoner is worth quoting:

    This is an important example of the Court of Appeal being prepared and willing to extend time in order to quash a sentence of IPP that was plainly wrong. The Appellant was well over tariff and had had two parole reviews prior to this appeal hearing. The Court recognised, however, that it was only after the Appellant’s case was passed to his prison law solicitor, for the purposes of his parole review, that it was recognised for the first time that there could be grounds for appealing against the sentence.
    The Appellant was represented by Vijay Jagadesham of Garden Court North Chambers and Samina Ahmed of Tuckers Solicitors.

    It seems scandalous, not only that such an obviously wrong and careless sentence should have been passed in the first place, but also that it took nearly six years for the injustice and clear grounds for an appeal to come to light — when the tariff was only 2-1/2 years minus 100 days on remand. How can this have escaped the notice of the two parole board hearings? This is heartless negligence on a grand scale, almost (I would have thought) deserving of a judicial inquiry. It’s certainly powerful evidence in support of the proposals for radical reform of IPPs in the Justice Secretary’s Green Paper, and deserves to be widely publicised as a frightening miscarriage of justice. How many other IPP prisoners are there out there, indefinitely incarcerated simply because it has never occurred to anyone to consider whether there might be grounds for an appeal?

  7. Arron Asquith says:

    I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. (misjustice for serving IPP) We have before us many, long months of struggle You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to set free serving IPP, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage …facebook campaiage against a sentence known as IPP inhuman barbaric sentece. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? quash this ipp, I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no justice for serving ipp towards its goal. abolish this IPP But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. will not be suffered to fail among ipp familys. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, “come then, let us go forward together with our united family strength.” lets all fight this dreadful IPP.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. A very apt adaptation! The message — fight on regardless — is right on target. And remember that the cause which Churchill so eloquently articulated triumphed in the end against all the odds.

  8. Mary says:

    I agree with Brian’s comments – the same thing happened to my loved family member just about 11 months ago.   We were one of the lucky ones who just kept on fighting the system and the IPP and the judges ruled in our favour too which meant the immediate release of the prisoner who had an 18 month IPP and was still in prison 4 years to the day that he was released.   I urge anyone who can  get solicitors to look at the case that they know about and keep plodding – never give up.

    Aaron Asquith – what would you like others to do?   Some of us have been fighting for years so please tell us how we can help.

    Brian – the Parole Board appear to give no credence to the ‘short’ tariffs’ involved – my loved one was also turned down by the Parole Board at the first hearing on the grounds that ‘further work needed to be done’   We wrote several times to them asking what ‘work’ they wanted done and they refused to respond.   Just to show what a farce it all is – the parole board wrote to my family member some weeks after the due date and after his release telling him they would not give him a hearing for another 6 months as the prison had not properly prepared the papers.   That would have meant at least 4 and a half years for an 18 month tariff – if it was not so serious it would be farcical.

    Thanks Brian as usual for your support and help with this matter – you have helped us all to feel strong.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Mary. For the parole board to write such a letter after the IPP prisoner has won his appeal and been (belatedly) released shows stunning incompetence and insensitivity. Why on earth didn’t the parole board notice at his hearing that there were grounds for an appeal, which would have had obvious implications for their assessment of his “dangerousness”? Of course the parole board had no power to order or, probably, formally even to recommend an appeal, but they surely could and should have communicated to the prisoner’s lawyer or to the prison governor or the IMB their view that grounds for an appeal might exist in this case, and that those potential grounds had to be a factor in determining whether he could be said to present a danger to the public if released. It makes one wonder how many more gross miscarriages of justice there have been which have still not come to light. Reform of this desperately flawed system is clearly long overdue, and it’s shameful that it has taken a Conservative government to recognise it.

  9. wendi says:

    hi all just read an article in the guardian, Why are some mentally ill patients treated like criminals  just thought i would let you know

  10. Brian says:

    Brian writes: Thanks, Wendi. This article is good on IPPs but of course it’s mainly focused on the gross injusice of giving an IPP to someone who is obviously mentally disturbed and has actually been sectioned. It looks like a case where the victim is probably going to have his IPP quashed on appeal.

    Opposition to the Justice Secretary’s sentencing reform proposals has been mounting dangerously ever since Ken Clarke’s interview about rape. So far the main focus of noisy opposition has been the proposal to give a discount of up to 50% to anyone (not just persons accused of rape) who pleads guilty at the outset of the case (at present the discount is up to a third). Unfortunately this has aroused such a storm of abuse of Clarke personally that it must be questionable whether any of his reforms will now get through — especially now that the Labour opposition seems to have decided to join the witch-hunt against Clarke and his proposals. It will be tragic if Clarke’s very positive ideas about changing the whole IPP régime fall victim to mass hysteria over the length of sentences for rape and some unpardonable cheap point-scoring by the Labour party.

  11. Patricia O says:

    Hello Brian, and I hope this finds you well.  With regard to today’s Government response to ‘Breaking the Cycle’, whilst I applaud Ken Clarke’s criticisms of the IPP sentence, as ‘flawed’, and his admission that ‘the IPP experiment was a mistake’, (House of Commons debate, 21 June), I am disappointed, as I know thousands of people will be, that there was no mention of any plan to deal with the backlog of prisoners, way past their minimum tariff.  Or have I missed anything? 

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. As I wrote in my post, many questions naturally remain to be answered, of which the first is what will happen to those currently in prison with IPPs who are past their tariffs but see no prospect under current rules and practices of early release. This is something that your MP can reasonably be asked to take up with the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke. Realistically, though, these things are bound to take time to resolve. It’s encouraging that the promised ‘review’ is described as ‘urgent’.

  12. Ruth says:

    IPP’s ! As the mother of a young man who received 4years IPP all of the comments, reports I have read are all of a similar ilk! My son has pushed and pushed to cover all the courses required of him, badgering the prison service to get on said courses and only because he has done so of his own back has managed to get them all done. He has had 2 parole hearings (both late!) and each time they came up with yet something else they would like him to cover, undertake. We are now awaiting his 3rd Parole hearing all aspects covered yet again, reports done and everyone ready for what we all hope will be his D cat clearance at last.
    He has now done 4 years 6 months and as stated by all it’s the uncertain fact of not having an end date to their sentence which makes it very hard to bare for not only him but us! If he is successful in getting his D Category which gives him a move to an open prison (which could take up to 6 months to get him moved!!) he will then as far as we know have to do at least another year in open conditions. Total so far almost 6 years? all because of the IPP.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Ruth. If as we all hope new IPPs are abolished by the Bill now going through parliament, it’s reasonable to hope that the procedures for assessing existing IPP prisoners for possible release at the end of their tariffs will be reformed with decisions speeded up and many more releases ordered. But I’m afraid it may all take quite a long time. We must keep up the pressure on behalf of existing IPPs as well as continuing to campaign for the abolition of future IPPs as now proposed by the government.

  13. Ruth says:

    Ken Clarke has now agreed that the IPP is to be abolished which I feel is good for the overcrowding of prisons. What happens though to those prisoners who have the IPP when they eventually get released are they still to have this life tag around their neck forever or will they benefit from this new rule?