The end of Indeterminate Sentences at last seems imminent

At last the prime minister himself has signalled the firm intention “shortly” to end the cruel injustice of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs).

David Hanson, Labour MP for Delyn, who was a minister of state for Justice in the Labour government, asked a question in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions demanding that the prime minister drop the Justice Secretary’s proposal to abolish “Labour’s” IPPS, on the grounds that they were necessary to keep dangerous criminals off the street.  David Cameron replied that there would shortly be an announcement by the Justice Secretary.  IPPs were a failed system which didn’t work and was not widely understood.  They would be replaced by tough determinate sentences which would keep dangerous criminals off the street; and the government would end the current system whereby dangerous criminals were being released half-way through their sentences. This would be generally welcomed.  (You can hear the question and answer at
— beginning at 21’36”.)

This seems to be the firmest commitment so far, given by the prime minister himself, to the ending of IPPs, and it must be irreversible.  There are other signs that the announcement by the MoJ is imminent.  I have commented on the Emmersons Solicitors IPP campaign Facebook page

Let’s hope that the determinate sentences which are to replace IPPs won’t be mandatory, unduly savage, or applied to any but the most serious violent offences. But if IPPs are really to go, that will be a huge gain. I doubt if the MoJ announcement will deal with the question of existing IPPs, but it will be very surprising if there’s no action soon to simplify and speed up the procedures for dealing with post-tariff IPPs even if there’s no public announcement about it.

Tragically, the terms of the question to the prime minister by David Hanson (presumably inspired by the Labour leadership) and of the latest statement by the Labour shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, appear to commit Labour pretty firmly to oppose the ending of IPPs.  This refusal, or inability, to acknowledge the injustice of IPPs, the misery they inflict on thousands of people who have either committed no offence or else have been punished for what they have done and paid their debt to society, the indefensible imposition of what amount to life sentences for offences for which a life sentence is manifestly and grotesquely excessive, and the disastrous practical effects of keeping thousands of IPP prisoners indefinitely in already over-crowded prisons, marks the definitive end of any hope of Labour abandoning the crudely illiberal attitude to penal policy reflected in the records of successive New Labour home secretaries.

In his first speech as Labour leader, Ed Miliband promised to change the Labour government’s often casual attitude to civil liberties.  That promise is now being spectacularly broken.  Labour MPs who obey their leaders’ instructions to vote against the ending of IPPs will bear a heavy responsibility.  How comfortable can they be with the company they will be keeping when they join forces with the most primitive of the hangers and floggers on the far right of the Conservative party in parliament and the country, and the most ignorant and unscrupulously populist of the tabloids and the reactionary broadsheets?  What a betrayal of the core principles of a once progressive and compassionate Labour party!

Let’s hope that the LibDems in parliament will steadfastly support this long overdue reform;  that there’ll be enough enlightened Labour rebels against their own front bench to ensure that the government’s proposals will be approved by parliament;  and that IPPs will soon be history.