Clause 108 - Power to refer high-risk offenders to Parole Board in place of automatic release

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 15th June 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Sorry, Sir Charles; I was momentarily moved to speechlessness by the fact that the Opposition have just voted to let child rapists out of jail earlier than the clause proposes.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Let us move on to clause 108, which relates to a new power for the Secretary of State to prevent the automatic release of offenders serving a standard determinate sentence, where release is ordinarily automatic, and instead refer them to the Parole Board in certain, very limited circumstances.

With a standard determinate sentence at the moment, there is automatic release at either the halfway point or, for more serious offences, at the two-thirds point, as per clauses 105 and 106. Clause 108 creates a new power to allow the Secretary of State to refer a prisoner who is in custody and assessed as dangerous to the Parole Board, to decide whether or not they are safe to release. Prisoners who are serving a standard determinate sentence, for any offence, who have become dangerous or who are identified as being dangerous while they are in prison get this referral.

To be clear, we are not creating a new kind of indeterminate sentence like the old imprisonment for public protection sentences, created in 2003, in which the sentence could carry on forever if someone were considered to be dangerous. The maximum sentence originally passed by the court on conviction and sentencing still applies.

We are not overriding the sentence of the court, but we are saying that if an offender is identified as dangerous they may continue to serve their determinate sentence until its end, unless and until the Parole Board, after the release point, decides that they are safe to release. It means that if someone becomes dangerous, they do not automatically get released early.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

The Minister will see from an upcoming amendment that I am interested in this clause. Can he give some clarification? Will he define “dangerous”? I assume that is within the prison context, as opposed to the crime being served for.

Will the Minister give some details on when and why the Secretary of State might intervene? At the moment, depending on the Parole Board’s decision, the Secretary of State already has 21 days to intervene. Will he explain what the clause will bring to the table?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am happy to answer all those questions, which are good questions. The 21-days provision that allows the Parole Board to think again has nothing to do with this; it is completely separate. It is a live issue in the terrible Pitchfork case, which Members will be aware of.

The provision in which the Parole Board takes a decision to release and the Secretary of State may ask it to think again, within 21 days, applies to any Parole Board release and is a matter currently being considered. That is wholly separate from this provision. It relates to any Parole Board release decision and was prompted by the awful Worboys case two or three years ago.

Here we are talking about where a prisoner is serving a standard determinate sentence and would ordinarily be released automatically without any Parole Board involvement at all, and the Secretary of State says, “Well, I think actually they are now dangerous”—I will come on to what that means in a minute—“and instead of automatic release, can the Parole Board look at the case and decide whether they are suitable for release, once their release point is passed?” That is different from the 21-days reconsideration.

The hon. Member for Rotherham asked for the definition of becoming dangerous and whether it means dangerous in a prison context. The answer is no. It does not mean dangerous in a prison context; it means dangerous to the public. One might ask what “dangerous to the public” means. The definition of “dangerous” in this context has a high threshold—we anticipate this provision will be used extremely rarely; it is not going to be a commonly used provision. It is that an offender is at “significant risk” of causing “serious harm” to the public by committing murder or one of the serious offences listed in schedule 18 of the Sentencing Act 2020, such as manslaughter, rape or terrorist offences, and that the risk cannot be sufficiently managed through the use of licence conditions.

If a referral is made, the Parole Board will consider it. It may say, “We will release them anyway” or, “We think there is a danger; we are going to keep them inside.” It can only keep them inside prison until the end of the original sentence that the court handed down.

I will give an example not caught by our new provisions. To take the example the shadow Minister used, let us say there is a six-year sentence for kidnapping. Currently, there would ordinarily be automatic release after three years. If for some reason there is evidence that the person who has been committed for kidnap might commit a terrorist offence or might kill someone, the Secretary of State can refer and the Parole Board will then consider, “Are they dangerous? Can we release them?” If it decides to keep them in prison, they can be kept in prison up to the six years of the original sentence, but no later. During the final three-year period in my example, the Parole Board will look at the case periodically.

If, after reference to the Parole Board, the prisoner thinks there has been an unreasonable delay—“I should have been released after three years, but it is now three years and six months and no one has looked at it; this is unreasonable”—they can refer the matter to the High Court to get it sorted out. There is a safety mechanism so that there cannot be an unreasonable delay.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Will the Minister confirm something? In the event of a dangerous person—a radicalised person—being required to serve their full sentence, will they be released into the community without any supervision or licence conditions when they get to the end of the sentence?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

That already happens, of course, with extended determinate sentences, where it is possible that the person will spend all their sentence in prison. If the Parole Board does that, there is no subsequent period on licence—unlike the SOPC that we just talked about, where there is a minimum of one year on licence afterwards.

Of course, when the Parole Board makes decisions about whether to release in the final half or third of a sentence, it will be aware of the point that the shadow Minister made. If it thinks that public safety is best served by releasing a little bit before the end of the sentence to allow that one year, or whatever it may be, on licence at the end, it is within its power to consider and do that—so instead of the individual serving all the sentence inside, there would be a bit of release on licence at the end. The Parole Board can think about that at the end if it chooses to.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

But surely the point remains that this person, who is said to be a danger to the public although there may not be sufficient evidence to convict him of another charge, will be released into the community at the end of their sentence—after six years, 10 years or whatever—and will still be the same dangerous person he was thought to be by the Lord Chancellor, through the Parole Board, when he was in prison.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:00 am, 15th June 2021

Under ECHR and common-law provisions, we cannot extend a sentence beyond what was handed down by the court. Of course, that was the big problem with the old IPP sentences, where people could stay in prison forever; indeed, there are still people in prison under IPP sentences.

We have to work within the envelope—within the maximum sentence handed down by the court originally for the offence originally committed. The judgment is essentially to be exercised by the Parole Board on how best to protect the public, by striking a balance. Do we leave people in prison for the whole time or do we release them a bit early with a period on licence? That is a judgment that the Parole Board has to make to best protect the public. In some cases, if it thinks that the risk is very high, it may consider that the whole term in prison is the best way.

Take the example of the six years. The Parole Board may say, “Well, six years in prison is better than five years in prison followed by one year on licence”. It is a judgment that the Parole Board must make. We cannot reasonably go beyond that six years, because that would be potentially unjust: we would be punishing someone and imposing a sentence that was longer than that originally handed down by the court for the offence of which they were convicted. That would be contrary to natural justice, common law and ECHR provisions.

That is why the measure is designed as it is, and I hope that makes sense.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

The old IPP sentences had their problems; they were much too widely used and were not originally intended to be that widely used. There was an issue about them, certainly. However, would not that kind of sentence—one that was indeterminate but able to be cut short when the individual concerned could demonstrate that they were no longer dangerous—be the answer in some of the kinds of tangents that the Minister is talking about?

The Minister seems to be tying himself in knots, to say, “Well, it’s going to be either three years or six years, but we all know that the person is coming out at the end”. Originally, IPP sentences were legislated for to deal with this very issue, but of course they ended up being too widely used. Is there not a better way of reintroducing some kind of IPP sentences that would enable greater safety but be much more narrowly used?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Can I clarify whether the hon. Member is talking about potentially indeterminate sentences?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

She is. Okay.

We debated this issue internally, when we were designing the clause. Clearly, one of the options considered was reintroducing some form of IPP sentence, which is, as the hon. Lady said, indeterminate, meaning that it could go on forever. That was not done because there is potentially an inherent injustice. We have been using the example of kidnap, so let us keep using it. If someone commits that offence and the judge decides that six years is the right sentence, to then say that that person, having been given a fixed sentence, could spend the rest of their life in prison because of a risk that they might offend later—they had not committed a more serious offence; it is just that they might—struck us as being inherently unjust.

Do hon. Members remember the film “Minority Report”, where people were incarcerated because it was judged that they might commit an offence in the future? If we get into the territory of imposing a penalty, which could be imprisonment forever, because someone might commit an offence rather than because they actually have committed an offence, we are straying into potentially slightly dangerous territory.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

I was not suggesting that; I was not suggesting that people who have been given determinate sentences should then arbitrarily suddenly find themselves with an indeterminate sentence. What I was suggesting was that perhaps there are a small number of cases for which it would be appropriate to reintroduce the possibility for judges to give indeterminate sentences again. The problem with the IPP was that it was much too widely used; I think the wording was too broad and it was much too widely used by sentencers. But the purpose of it was to deal with just these cases that the Minister is talking about.

I am not suggesting that somebody who has been given a determinate sentence should then arbitrarily be given an indeterminate sentence. However, if an indeterminate sentence for public protection was available in very narrow circumstances to judges, would that not fill this gap in a more coherent way than the way in which the Minister is trying to do it?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Clearly, if the original offence for which the offender is sentenced is one of the more serious ones that we have been talking about—for example, even offences that we consider to be moderately serious, such as committing grievous bodily harm with intent, have life sentences—the judge can, if he or she chooses, impose a life sentence and set a tariff for consideration for release, so there is flexibility. We are talking about cases where the original offence is not one of those very serious ones that has a life sentence, but one that has a fixed determinate sentence. I think the hon. Member is asking if we can give the judge the power to say that, even though the original offence has a fixed maximum sentence of, for example, only five years, they will override that and say, “Actually, for some reason that is not to do with the original offence, but is just to do with some other assessment of public risk, I will give you an indeterminate sentence.” I think that is the question.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

Not quite. I was suggesting that perhaps the Minister should legislate for indeterminate sentences in particular circumstances and give the judge that discretion, but in a much narrower band of offences than those that ended up getting indeterminate sentences in the past. Indeterminate sentences have all been abolished now—they cannot be used. If I might say so, it seems that the Minister is trying to deal with the very issue that they were introduced to deal with in a very convoluted manner.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, we are trying to do deal with the issue of prisoners who become dangerous, or who clearly pose a danger to the public, while they are in prison, but without doing what IPPs did. IPPs were abolished for a reason in 2012: people who committed a particular offence with a fixed sentence of, say, five years could end up in prison forever. As I have said, for more serious offenders the judge has the option of a life sentence, but we do not think it is right that someone could commit an offence with a fixed sentence, such as five years, and end up in prison for life, not for an offence they have committed, but for one that they might commit in the future.

This is the best way of balancing that public protection consideration against natural justice—that the punishment should fit the crime—and avoid a “Minority report”-type situation where someone is incarcerated for a crime that they may commit in the future, but have not yet committed. This strikes the right balance. We stay within the envelope of the sentence handed down by the judge. The judge has the option in serious cases to hand down a life sentence already, but we have just changed the release provisions.

We have debated the clause relatively extensively, Sir Charles. It strikes the right balance between natural justice and protecting the public. On that basis, I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

As we have heard, clause 108 would create a new power to allow the Lord Chancellor to refer a prisoner to the Parole Board who would otherwise be eligible for automatic release, if he believes that they have become a significant danger to the public while in prison. Rather than being freed at the halfway or two-thirds point of a sentence, they would be released only if the Parole Board thought it was safe. If the Parole Board did not believe it was safe, they would continue to serve the rest of their sentence in prison, unless the Parole Board consequently changed its mind. As the Minister has confirmed, if they served the whole of their sentence in prison, they would then be released into the community without any licence conditions or supervision.

It is safe to say that the Opposition have several serious concerns with clause 108, and largely agree with the Prison Reform Trust in believing that

“this clause creates a constitutional and legal mess”.

Let us start with the basics. As is set out in the explanatory notes to the Bill, this is a brand new power, the beneficiary of whom is the Lord Chancellor.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I say with great respect to the shadow Minister that the beneficiary of this clause is not the Lord Chancellor, but the general public, who might be protected from dangerous offenders who would otherwise be released.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Lord Chancellor is the beneficiary, because he is given a new power to change things and refer.

The effect of the clause is that, for the first time for these types of prisoners, the Lord Chancellor will have the power effectively to refer a prisoner to have their sentence conditions varied, should the Parole Board agree. We all understand that. For example, if a prisoner is sentenced to five years for shoplifting, under current legislation they would become eligible to be automatically released on licence at the halfway point of their sentence. Under the new provision, if the Lord Chancellor believes that the shoplifter had become radicalised in prison, he could refer the prisoner to the Parole Board, which could prevent his automatic release. That would, of course, be without the prisoner ever having been charged or found guilty of any further offence while in prison.

That raises two fundamental questions. First, is it right or proper for the Lord Chancellor to be involved in the management of individual prisoners? How will he make the decision to refer somebody to the Parole Board? What criteria will be used for the Lord Chancellor to make such a referral decision? Secondly, is this not a case of punishment without due process, and therefore unlawful?

On the first point, I note the remarks of the Sentencing Academy on clause 108:

“giving the Secretary of State for Justice the power to intervene in the management of an individual offender’s sentence gives rise to concern about undue political interference in the sentences of individual offenders.”

I accept that the final decision rests with the Parole Board. That raises the all-important question of whether the Secretary of State for Justice, who is after all a member of the Government, is really the right person to decide who should be referred to the Parole Board in a prison that could be hundreds of miles away.

That is by no means the only question provoked by clause 108, as currently drafted. The questions go on and on. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to provide clarity on at least the following points today. What evidential tests will have to be satisfied for the Secretary of State to make a referral to the Parole Board, and who will be responsible for collecting that evidence? What standard of proof will the Secretary of State use when deciding to make a referral or not? Will he have to be satisfied that someone has become a significant danger on the balance of probabilities, or beyond reasonable doubt? If the Secretary of State is so concerned that someone has become radicalised or poses a serious threat, why not simply take that person to court and allow a judge to consider the evidence? Are the Government simply trying to avoid the inconvenience of having to provide evidence and have it tested in open court? Is it not a dangerous precedent for the Secretary of State to become involved in determinations made about individual cases?

That brings me to my next concern. What happens to a prisoner who, after being referred by the Secretary of State to the Parole Board, is refused their automatic release? As I understand it, if the offender is denied automatic release, he or she could spend the rest of their custodial sentence in prison, rather than some of it on licence in the community. Those prisoners will be released before the end of their sentence only if and when the Parole Board authorises it.

That raises two further concerns. First, it would create what Jonathan Hall, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has described as a “cliff-edge effect”, which is where an offender who has specifically been identified as being a significant danger to the public while in prison spends their entire sentence in custody and is released into the community without any licence or monitoring conditions. Let us think about a possible scenario. A prisoner has been convicted for non-terrorist or non-violent crime and is sentenced in court to, say, five years. They are specifically told by the court that they can expect to be automatically released from prison at the halfway point of their sentence—in that case, two and a half years. Instead, they receive the news that the Secretary of State has reason to believe that they have become a danger to society while in prison. The Parole Board agrees, and their sentence is retrospectively changed so that they can spend the whole sentence in prison.

I am sure the Minister will agree that that offender would have some right to be angry with the criminal justice system and society at large. They would then be released, harbouring that anger, without any licence conditions or supervision. Does the Minister not see what the consequences of that could be? Would it not be better simply to collect any evidence and allow a court to come to a determination? Surely, if the evidence of what is effectively an offence exists, the person should be charged and sentenced for that offence.

During the evidence session on 18 May, the Minister tried to convince the Committee that clause 108 would not create that cliff-edge effect by indicating that if the authorities were particularly concerned about an individual offender, the Home Secretary could impose a terrorism prevention and investigation measure on them. However, that excuse simply does not stack up. As Jonathan Hall, QC, pointed out, TPIMs are extremely resource-intensive and very rarely used, especially in these circumstances. As the Minister will be aware, for each of the three-month periods between 1 December 2018 and 30 November 2019, only three to five TPIMs were in place nationally.

The Bill’s impact assessment sets out that the Government expect clause 108 to result in additional prison places being required by 2023 because of prisoners not being released automatically. Can the Minister confirm how many of the extra prisoners he expects will leave prison subject to a TPIM, and the cost of that to the public purse? What extra resources will authorities be given to deal with the increased number of TPIMs that we can presumably expect to be in effect?

The other consequence of requiring an offender to spend additional time in prison is that the amount of time they would spend in the community under supervision from the probation service would decrease or disappear altogether. The result would be offenders getting none of the rehabilitation efforts given to other prisoners in the community, thereby risking increased rates of reoffending. That has negative consequences not only for the prisoner but for the general public at large. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that anyone affected by clause 108 will still receive the rehabilitation they need to reintegrate into society without putting the public at increased risk?

The Opposition’s last concern about clause 108 is how it could affect racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system. As I said in my speech on clause 100, while we accept that the Government have either given up on trying to reduce racial disparity in the criminal justice system or could not care less, the Opposition do care. Given that the Government did not even bother to conduct a full equalities impact assessment on the Bill, I imagine it will come as a shock to the Minister to learn that clause 108, like clause 100 before it, has a real risk of making racial inequalities in the justice system worse.

In response to the sentencing White Paper, the national independent advisory group EQUAL set out that clause 108 would likely have a disproportionate impact, particularly on Muslim offenders:

“We are hugely concerned about the new power to prevent automatic release for offenders who become of significant public protection concern. We must be extremely careful to ensure that any public protection concerns are founded on firm facts/evidence vs uncorroborated ‘intelligence’… Given that the paper provides no detail on how these offenders will be assessed there is a risk that offenders who appear Muslim or are practicing Islam will be unfairly assessed as presenting a significant danger to the public.”

Given that no further detail was included in the Bill on how offenders will be assessed and how evidence will be collected, I wonder if the Minister will provide that information today.

EQUAL is not the only one to voice concern about how clause 108 could have a greater impact on certain ethnic groups. Indeed, the Bill’s impact assessment sets out that the Government

“recognise that there may be the potential for unconscious bias through discretion in decision-making in relation to the assessment of risk and dangerousness, leading to the decision on whether to refer the offender to the Parole Board.”

The Government accept that this could go wrong. The impact assessment goes on to say that, to mitigate that risk, the use of this power by the Secretary of State will be monitored and reviewed. However, it does not explain what will happen if the power is found to have been used in an unfair and disproportionate way.

To sum up, I go back to where we started and reiterate the words of the Prison Reform Trust, which described clause 108 as a “constitutional and legal mess”. There are simply too many questions left unanswered. I will name a few. Is it right for the Secretary of State to be involved in the management of individual prisoners? What test will be applied? What standard of proof will be needed? Why can this process not be handled openly in a court? What will be the impact of releasing a prisoner without access to rehabilitation in the community? Perhaps more importantly, what will be the effect of releasing a prisoner who has been identified as a risk without licence or supervision?

The Opposition, as will be clear to the Minister now, have real concerns that clause 108 would put the public at increased risk, which is simply unacceptable. For that reason, we cannot support it.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 10:15 am, 15th June 2021

It was not my intention to make a speech on this clause, but more questions are being raised than answered, and I hope that the Minister will be able to answer a few of them.

I share the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North, and there are many questions, but I have always had a problem with the idea of someone being given a sentence and serving only a third or two thirds of it. I would much rather that it were clear that a sentence was for this amount of time in prison and that amount of time under licence in the community, because I think that would give clarity. My concern about the clause is that it almost creates a hierarchy of sentencing, which I find confusing.

I know well only the behaviour of sexual offenders, and I am yet to find any form of rehabilitation or punishment that effectively changes their behaviour, so I could argue persuasively here that they will always be a danger and that there is always a potential risk. I also believe, however, that we need a justice system that is fair and transparent so that we can follow it, and I am not sure that the clause would allow us to do that. I am concerned that if someone is released at the end of their sentence after serving a full term, the probation, rehabilitation and limits that a licence would put around them might not be there, meaning that their transition into the community is abrupt and does not have the level of support that is needed to curb some people’s behaviour.

I am concerned that the Minister did not once mention whether victims would be consulted. My amendment 145 deals with that. Who could be better than victims and survivors to say whether a person is a danger and to influence the decision of the Lord Chancellor? I am also concerned that there may be subjectivity in decisions made by this Lord Chancellor and future Lord Chancellors—that cannot be allowed to happen. I really hope that the Minister will give some reassurances on the points that I have raised, because at the moment the clause would not be a successful one.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip

I want to raise one particular point. Is the Minister aware of the Welsh Government’s recently published race equality action plan, which states its commitment to developing a race equality delivery plan that will address the over-representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system? Indeed, in Wales, more black and minority ethnic people are in prison than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Does he share my concern that this and other clauses might militate against the policy of the Senedd in Cardiff, a legislative public body that has been democratically elected?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will try briefly to respond to some of the points raised by Opposition Members in relation to clause 108.

First, on whether the clause somehow infringes natural justice or the ECHR, or imposes a penalty without due process, as the shadow Minister put it, I can categorically say that it does not, because under no circumstances can anyone spend a longer period in prison than the original sentence handed down by the judge. The clause relates to the administration of the release provisions. It is a long-established legal principle that the administration of a sentence—whether it is spent inside or outside prison, for example—is a matter that can be varied in the course of the sentence being served.

This matter was tested in the courts relatively recently when we passed the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020. The very first person who was effectively kept in prison longer than they ordinarily would have been, because their release point was basically moved by that Act, went to the High Court and tried to make the case that that was an infringement of their rights because they thought they were going to get released automatically at two thirds, but were instead referred to the Parole Board, which did not let them out. Because of TORA, that has been tested in the High Court and found to be lawful—that is to say, the administration of the sentence can be varied.

The reason we have gone no further than that and have said that someone cannot be kept in prison for longer than the original sentence—the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood was probing on this in her interventions—was that we think that would infringe the principle of natural justice. The shadow Minister questions whether we have gone too far and the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood thinks we have not gone far enough, which might suggest that we have landed in around the right place.

There was then the question from the shadow Minister on the cliff edge issue: if someone serves all of their sentence in prison, they then spend no time on licence, by definition. That does, of course, apply to any of the existing extended determinate sentences if the Parole Board decide to keep the prisoner inside prison for the whole of their sentence. The potential for the cliff edge does exist, but when deciding whether to release early the Parole Board can, of course, take into account whether the public are better served by the whole sentence being spent in prison, or most of it in prison and a bit of licence at the end. In no sense are the public any less safe if the prisoner spends all of the sentence in prison, given that the sentence is a maximum. The prisoner is in prison, clearly, and cannot commit an offence during that period.

On rehabilitation, it can of course take place, it does take place, and it should take place in prison as much as in the community. Significant resources are being invested in that rehabilitation process in prison, led by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Alex Chalk.

On the matter of the propriety of the Lord Chancellor making the referral, as raised by the shadow Minister and by the hon. Member for Rotherham, the power is the power of referral. The Secretary of State for Justice, the Lord Chancellor, is not making any final decision himself or herself about release, and is simply referring a prisoner to the Parole Board to make that determination and that decision. That does not constitute undue political interference in the process.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. For me, the issue is the basis on which the Lord Chancellor makes the decision to refer. What evidence test is used and who gathers that particular evidence?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Most likely, as a matter of practice, that would be the prison governor or prison authorities who see behaviour of concern, and might draw the matter to the attention of the Ministry of Justice and the Secretary of State.

The shadow minister asked what test was applied. The test is whether there is a significant risk of serious harm to the public by the offender potentially committing a serious offence, such as murder, in the future, as listed in section 18 of the Sentencing Act 2020, and that the risk cannot be sufficiently managed through the use of licence conditions. That is the test that will be applied by those making decisions, but ultimately the decision is for the Parole Board.

The concept of the Parole Board making a discretionary decision about whether to release already exists, and has done for years. Currently it exists in the contest of extended determinate sentences, and in the past it existed—in theory at least—for every single sentence passed. It already happens for thousands and thousands of extended determinate sentences, so what is proposed here is not a radical departure from current practice for extended determinate sentences, nor indeed for people on a life sentence with a tariff. The referral process can add to the criteria taken into account for those offenders. We would expect that to involve small numbers.

In answer to the issue relating to Wales raised by the hon. Member for Arfon, we are expecting the numbers to be extremely low. It will not have a significant impact on overall numbers. It is, mercifully, pretty rare for that sort of evidence to come to light. If the evidence is at the level that it merits prosecution—planning, preparing or inciting an offence, which was asked about—obviously prosecution is the first option. Prosecution for the offence will always be the first option, but if we cannot establish that an offence has been committed to the required criminal standard, a Parole Board referral is the next best thing up to the maximum sentence, but no further. I hope that address the questions—

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I asked the Minister to address the issue of the number of TPIMs likely to be applied in the event of somebody considered to be dangerous when leaving prison.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:30 am, 15th June 2021

I cannot speculate on what may happen in the future. The shadow Minister pointed out that the number of TPIMs in use is pretty small and that is most certainly true. Equally, the number of people likely to be referred in that way will be small, albeit likely to be larger than the number of TPIMs. As I said, there is the option for the Parole Board not to have the person serve the full sentence but to have a little bit at the end served on licence. There is that option, as well as the TPIM, plus the option for the police and security services to keep people under observation more generally, if they are concerned. I hope that answers the point.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Minister has given a full response to some of the issues I raised but not a sufficient one. I am worried about the evidential test in relation to this matter. The Minister said if there is sufficient evidence for a prosecution while the person remains in prison, there will be a prosecution, but if that evidence does not meet a criminal test, there can be no prosecution and this legislation will be relied on to retain the person in prison following a referral to the Parole Board. We remain very concerned about that and about the standard of proof, which we also talked about.

Ultimately, this issue is about how prisoners are managed in the longer term and their rehabilitation. The fact remains that someone who is considered dangerous, though not dangerous enough to be prosecuted, can be released into the community at the end of their sentence without any supervision or conditions. I accept that the Minister says the security services or police might keep an eye on them. That is insufficient if somebody is considered to be so dangerous. On that basis, we still oppose the clause.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Division number 21 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill — Clause 108 - Power to refer high-risk offenders to Parole Board in place of automatic release

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 6.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 108 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

Before we move on, I remind the Committee that it was notified to the Chair that the Whips wish to get to clause 138 by close of play today. We are moving at glacial pace. I know these are important matters but, if we continue to move at that pace, the Whips may want to recalibrate their lofty ambitions over lunch.