13:30, April 03 175 0 theguardian.com

2018-04-03 13:30:07
John Worboys case shone light on IPP injustice

“The role of the Parole Board has grown in the past 20 years, matching the public’s appetite for more punitive sentencing,” writes Alan Travis (Analysis, 29 March). For many years, my late husband, Brian Barder, was a leading campaigner against indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs), which were abolished in 2012. Until Brian died in 2017, he was still campaigning against the injustices brought about by the sloppy drafting and often incorrect application of the act under which IPPs were imposed, and he had built up a huge caseload of examples of desperate people, still imprisoned years after they had served their intial tariff, who had no hope of release.

As he wrote in June 2016: “Since it is inherently impossible to prove a future negative, few IPPs have managed to persuade parole boards that it’s safe to release them.

“As Ken Clarke pointed out recently on the BBC Today Programme, parole boards are scared to order the release of an IPP for fear that the board will be blamed if the IPP goes on to commit another offence after being released, so it is obviously safer for the parole board, always risk-averse, to reject most applications for release.”

In that blog in 2016, Brian pointed out that there were 4,614 IPP prisoners still incarcerated, and that 3,352 of these had served their full periods of punishment or tariffs but were still in preventive detention with no release date. It is illuminating to be told that some of the alleged victims of John Worboys whose cases were not taken up by the Crown Prosecution Service were assured that the IPP sentence in effect meant a life sentence so they had no reason to worry that he would be released at some future date. It will worry the relatives of those more than 3,000 prisoners still held under IPP sentences that CPS lawyers and police can regard an IPP sentence as equivalent to a life sentence.

It is ironic that the first major legal challenge to the part played by the Parole Board in this scandalous system should be a case where common sense would suggest that the decision, said to have been made by a very experienced panel, was questionable at the very least. So many prisoners and their relatives over the years since the IPP system came into effect have suffered the anguish of having their cases assessed and rejected by a Parole Board panel with no explanation or possibility of appeal except to try again some years later when their turn comes round again.

When the decision to release John Worboys was announced, my immediate thought was that this must be a clever ploy to discredit Parole Board panels, but to what purpose? It will have reinforced their fear of tabloid and public criticism, which is a disastrous outcome. It has, however, brought the system under public scrutiny. I hope that MPs interested in civil liberties will seize the opportunity to campaign for greater transparency about the membership and decision-making of Parole Board panels and a clear understanding of the nature of their responsibilities. To whom are they responsible?

Jane Barder

London

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