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15 November 2010

PRT comment: Court of Appeal IPP judgment

Speaking today about the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the cases of David Walker and Brett James, Juliet Lyon, director, Prison Reform Trust said:

Today’s decision highlights the dangers of passing headline-grabbing laws with barely any regard to the consequences. 

IPPs have become runaway sentences, being used far more frequently than ministers intended or courts have wanted.  As a result, our overstretched and under-resourced prison system has been left to conjure up out of thin air the courses needed for the IPP system to work.  Introducing the sentence, and not ensuring access to courses designed to reduce risk, has left IPPs as catch-22 sentences, leaving many short tariff  prisoners with no way out.

This judgment, and reforms being made in the current criminal justice bill, spells the beginning of the end of these unfair and unnecessary sentences.

The judgement stated:

“This appeal has demonstrated an unhappy state of affairs. There has been a systemic failure on the part of the Secretary of State to put in place the resources necessary to implement the scheme of rehabilitation necessary to enable the relevant provisions of the 2003 Act to function as intended. So far as the two respondents are concerned the appropriate remedy is limited to declaratory relief. For the reasons that we have given, however, the prevailing situation is likely to result in infringement of Article 5(4) and may ultimately also result in infringement of Article 5(1). Mr Singh submitted that the appropriate course in such a case would be to make a declaration of incompatibility. We are not persuaded that it might not be open to the court to grant more effective relief.  There are circumstances in which the Secretary of State can release prisoners before they have served a minimum custodial term. For instance section 36 of the 1991 Act and section 30 of the 1997 Act gives him the power of early release on compassionate grounds and the prerogative of mercy has been held to justify special remission of a prisoner’s sentence in recognition, for instance, of outstanding bravery or assistance to the authorities. It might be argued that one or other of these powers can and should properly be stretched so as to enable and require the Secretary of State to release a prisoner if his continued detention will infringe Article 5(1). That question is for another day.”

Further resources

To download the full judgement click here:

Read PRT’s briefing Indefinitely Maybe? on IPPs here


1. 3,386 IPPs in prison in October 2007.
2. At end of October 428 were beyond the end of their tariff.