HC Deb 23 July 1996 vol 282 cc169-70W
Mr. Booth

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what procedural changes will be made following the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights of 21 February in Singh and Hussain concerning the release of prisoners sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure. [39718]

Mr. Howard

Prisoners detained during Her Majesty's pleasure who have served a period adequate to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence, have their cases reviewed periodically by the Parole Board. At present, responsibility for their release rests with the Secretary of State. This responsibility cannot be conferred on the Parole Board or any other body without primary legislation.

As an interim measure, I have decided to change the administrative arrangements for the review and release of such prisoners. These administrative arrangements will apply to all such prisoners whose next Parole Board review begins on or after 1 August 1996. The changes will mean that these prisoners may have legal representation and an oral hearing before the Parole Board. They will also then be able to examine and cross examine witnesses. They will normally receive full disclosure of all material relevant to the question of whether they should be released.

If, at that review, the Parole Board favours the release of a prisoner, I will normally accept such a recommendation. My consideration of all such cases remains subject to consultation with the judiciary, as required by section 35(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

The Singh and Hussain judgments affect only the process by which the decision is made on whether to release prisoners sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure. They do not relate to the period of detention which such prisoners must serve to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence, or Parole Board reviews which take place before the end of that period.

There will be no change to the dates set for Parole Board reviews of prisoners who have served that period, other than in the very small number of cases where I rejected the board's recommendation for release at the last review. Such cases will, exceptionally, be referred back to the Parole Board for early consideration under the new arrangements.

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