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Europe rights court rules England, Wales indeterminate sentences unlawful

The European Court of Human Rights [official website] ruled [judgment] Tuesday that England and Wales' indeterminate sentences for protection of the public (IPP) [BBC backgrounder] without the means for inmates to prove their rehabilitation are arbitrary and unlawful. The IPP requires an inmate to demonstrate to the Parole Board [official website] that he or she is no longer a threat to society to become eligible for release after serving a minimum sentence. The ruling originated from applications filed by three inmates, Brett James, Nicholas Wells and Jeffrey Lee. They argued that their detention even after the expiry of their tariff sentence was unlawful. The government has argued that the tariff element of the IPP sentence achieved the punishment purpose while the post-tariff element addressed the need of public protection. The court however, held that there was a violation of Article 5, Section 1 [text] of the Convention for detaining applicants during the period between the expiry of their tariffs and steps taken to provide them with rehabilitative courses. In addition, the court criticized the lack of rehabilitation resources denying applicants chances of getting their tariffs reduced or eliminated. Since the basis for continued detention after expiry of tariffs is risk to the public, the court held that this is arbitrary and thus, unlawful. With the finding of a violation, the court also demanded the government pay the applicants compensation totaling €53,200. The new justice minister Chris Grayling [official website] announced that he plans to appeal the decision. There are currently more than 6,000 prisoners serving under the IPP in England and Wales.

In 2007, the Queen's Bench Division of the England and Wales High Court ruled [JURIST report] in a similar way in the case of two inmates who were serving indeterminate prison sentences without the means to prove their rehabilitation. Even after serving their minimum sentence, the two inmates were detained because they could not show any evidence of rehabilitation due to lack of such programs. IPP sentences were introduced as part of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 [Sec. 225 text] and became effective in April 2005.

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