A former judge has called for major changes to a ‘Kafke-esque’ sentence which has seen thousands of people locked up indefinitely.
Judge John Samuels QC sat in crown courts for 27 years before retiring to become chairman of the Criminal Justice Alliance and president of the Prisoners’ Education Trust.
Having sentenced hundreds of people to a great variety of terms over his esteemed career, he is calling for major reforms to Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences (IPPs).
The sentences were introduced by the Labour government in 2003 and came into force in 2005.
They were designed to keep dangerous criminals who had not committed offences warranting a life sentence off the streets until they no longer posed a danger to the public.
Seven years after their introduction they were banned following a damning European Court of Human Rights ruling, yet those currently serving them were not released.
Eight years later and with more than 2,000 IPP prisoners still locked up – many for relatively minor crimes – Judge Samuels has called for immediate and major reform.
“Its consequences are deeply harmful not only to people that are caught up in them, but to the families who simply cannot move on with their lives at all,” he said.
“Huge numbers of children and family members are affected by this.”
Judge Samuels has called for measures touted by the Prison Reform Trust to be introduced.
The organisation wants judge-led reviews to convert IPP sentences into the sentence prisoners would have got had the IPP not been available.
The Trust is also calling for t ransitional provisions, to ensure arrangements are in place for adequate supervision when IPP prisoners are released.
“I would adopt what the prison reform trust has said completely,” Judge Samuels continued.
“They have described the sentencing regime as Kafke-esque.”
The judge went on to say that some of those who were sentenced to IPPs deserved long sentences.
He recalled one case he presided over in which a “blood crazed violent young man” committed a series of robberies with a kitchen knife, severing someone’s arm on one occasion.
Judge Samuels sentenced the man to a life term, which was changed to an IPP on appeal – something he says was “right”.
While he says he has no regrets about any of the IPPs he handed down – otherwise he ‘wouldn’t have imposed’ them – while serving on the Court of Appeal he encountered some miscarriages of justice.
Such cases have left the judge with the view that IPPs are ‘the most monstrous injustice of all time’.
He is joined in that view by Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust.
He said: “The suffering caused by this disastrous sentence goes on and on.
“It extends far beyond the people still unjustly held in prison, affecting parents, partners and children, all totally innocent.
“Legislation is needed to finish the job of putting right the injustice done to so many by the IPP sentence.
“The forthcoming sentencing white paper would be a good place to start.”