HL Deb 04 November 1993 vol 549 cc133-4WA
Viscount Mersey

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they can now provide further information about their proposals for implementing the House of Lords judgment of 24 June 1993 in the case of Smart, Pegg, Doody and Pierson following the Answer given by Lord Ferrers on 27 July 1993 (H.L. Deb., col. WA 118).

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

The judgment is concerned with the disclosure to prisoners serving mandatory life sentences of information about the minimum period of custody that they will be required to serve in order to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence.Inter alia, it requires that the prisoner should be told the gist of the judicial advice which the Secretary of State receives on this subject, the Secretary of State's decision and the reasons for any departure from the judicial view.

On 27 July, my right honourable friend announced that he was consulting the Lord Chief Justice about the precise way in which the judgment would be implemented in respect of those prisoners who had already been sentenced. Those consultations have now been completed. Disclosure of the matters required by the judgment has already been given to four prisoners immediately affected by the judgment and to another four in respect of whom there were extant judicial review proceedings.

Following this consultation, we propose now to commence a programme of disclosure to all mandatory life sentence prisoners. There are two categories of such prisoners. First, there are approximately 100 prisoners who were sentenced either shortly before, or after, the House of Lords judgment for whom a minimum period of detention has not yet been considered by a Minister. In accordance with my right honourable friend's previous Answer, they will, as soon as is practicable, be informed of the relevant judicial recommendations in their cases so that they may, if they wish, submit written representations before that period is set. Any such representations will be considered by my right honourable friend or by a Minister acting on his behalf; and the prisoner will be informed of the decision with reasons for any departure from the judicial view.

Secondly, there is a much larger number of some 2,600 prisoners whose cases have already been considered by Ministers, often some years ago, and who have already been notified of the date when their case would be first reviewed by the Local Review Committee prior to consideration by the Parole Board. Home Office officials will now begin the process of disclosure to them of the gist of the relevant judicial recommendations and advice, and of the decision by the Secretary of State of the day as to the minimum period which must be served for retribution and deterrence, together, in appropriate cases, with a statement of the reasons why a recommendation from the judiciary was not followed. These prisoners will also be able to submit written representations. They will be considered and a response will be provided.

It will inevitably take some time to clear the "backlog" of cases represented by this second group, given the limited resources available for the task. Taking account of the need to consider and respond to prisoners' representations, it will probably be some twelve months before every mandatory life sentence prisoner has been considered. Priority will be given to prisoners who have first Local Review Committee dates in the calendar years 1994–96 inclusive, in the order of those dates. In fairness to all, and to ensure maximum efficiency, cases will not normally be taken out of turn.