HC Deb 13 March 1998 vol 308 cc370-1W
Mr. Reed

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how release dates of prisoners who are repatriated from abroad are calculated. [34935]

Mr. Straw

The release dates of repatriated prisoners are calculated on the basis of the legislation in force on the date on which the prisoner is repatriated, subject to the provisions of the Schedule to the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984 (as amended by Schedule 2 to the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997).

The warrants under which prisoners are repatriated may contain reference to two separate periods. The first is the balance to serve, which is deemed to be the prisoner's sentence in this country. The second, for prisoners for whom it is applicable, is a period used solely to calculate the parole eligibility date of the prisoner.

In calculating the balance of the sentence remaining to be served by a prisoner following return to this country, account is taken of the time served abroad by the prisoner including, where applicable, any remand time and any remission available to the prisoner. The resulting balance is administered in accordance with the relevant United Kingdom legislative provisions. Automatic release in the case of prisoners sentenced abroad to four years or more therefore occurs at the two thirds point of the balance to serve, and for prisoners sentenced abroad to less than four years, at the halfway point. Prisoners sentenced to periods of imprisonment abroad of four years or more are also eligible to be considered for discretionary release on licence (parole).

As far as parole is concerned, it has always been the policy that a repatriated prisoner should be treated as if he had been sentenced here i.e. he should become eligible for parole after having served one half of his original term of imprisonment (or one third in the case of prisoners sentenced prior to 1 October 1992). For the purposes of achieving this, it was the practice to specify in the warrant for the purposes solely of calculating parole eligibility, a period equivalent to the time actually served by the prisoner abroad.

Amendments made to the 1984 Act as a consequence of the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 resulted in anomalies with regard to the position of repatriated prisoners. In particular, the amendments linked parole eligibility and automatic release dates. As a consequence specifying a period in the warrant for the purposes of calculating parole eligibility had the unintended effect of bringing forward the prisoner's automatic release date. Judicial reviews brought in 1995 and 1996 brought these difficulties to light for the first time. It also emerged that the parole eligibility dates of prisoners had not previously been calculated fully in accordance with the terms of the legislation.

The difficulties identified in the legislation were corrected by means of amendments to the 1984 Act contained in Schedule 2 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. In the light of the amendments and the discovery that parole dates were not previously calculated entirely in accordance with the legislation, it has become clear that it is not always appropriate to specify in the warrant a period equivalent to the actual time served by the prisoner abroad since this does not always result in the correct parole eligibility date.

Since 1 October 1997, therefore, normal policy has been to specify, for the purposes of calculating parole eligibility in accordance with the provisions of the Schedule to the 1984 Act, a period which ensures that the prisoner becomes eligible to be considered for parole after having served one half (or one third) of the original sentence. Each case is considered on an individual basis, taking into account the length of the original sentence, the time served abroad, and the balance to serve in this country.