Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998

Northern Ireland Office written question – answered on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, whether the provision in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 capping time spent in prison for Troubles-related offences at two years applies to members of the (a) armed forces, (b) police and (c) security services and (b) paramilitaries; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Under the early release scheme that formed part of the 1998 Belfast Agreement and was given legislative effect by the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, qualifying prisoners may apply for early release (subject to certain conditions) after they have served two years in prison. Currently anyone convicted of Troubles-related scheduled offences and serving their sentence in Northern Ireland would be eligible to apply to the scheme. Release is on licence, such licence being subject to revocation for noncompliance with certain conditions - as has happened in a number of cases. When a licence is revoked an individual is liable to be returned to prison to serve out their original sentence.

The provisions set out in the draft Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill on which we recently consulted would amend the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to extend this two year accelerated release scheme for Troubles-related offences to those serving sentences in Great Britain. The Sentences Act does not cover offences committed before August 1973, so the draft Bill proposes to extend the early release scheme to cover the start of the Troubles (January 1968-August 1973). The Government has no intention to extend early release to offences committed after the date of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998. There is no proposal in the consultation to do this and the Government is not contemplating it.

The legacy consultation concluded in October and we expect to finish our analysis of the 17,000 plus responses shortly. It is right we take the time to consider each response fully and I will set out the next steps in this process as soon as I can.

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