HC Deb 15 February 1999 vol 325 cc509-10W
Mr. Heppell

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) in how many cases since 1991 discretionary power has been exercised for the release on compassionate grounds of(a) long-term and (b) life prisoners; [70392]

(2) what criteria he applies in the exercise of his powers under section 36(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 regarding the release of prisoners on compassionate grounds under licence. [70393]

Mr. George Howarth

Following the coming into force of section 30 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 on 1 October 1997, the release on compassionate grounds of life prisoners is considered under that Act. Section 36(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 now applies only to determinate sentence prisoners.

Prison Service records show that 54 determinate sentence prisoners (including long term) and 18 life sentence prisoners were released on compassionate grounds between the implementation of section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, in October 1992, and the end of 1998.

When considering compassionate release on medical grounds, the Secretary of State applies the following criteria in all cases: the prisoner is suffering from a terminal illness and death is likely to occur soon; or the prisoner is bedridden or similarly incapacitated; and the risk of re-offending is past; and there are adequate arrangements for the prisoner's care and treatment outside prison; and early release will bring some significant benefit to the prisoner or his/her family.

In the case of determinate sentence prisoners, compassionate release may be considered where tragic family circumstances exist, in which case the criteria are as follows: the circumstances of the prisoner or the family have changed to the extent that if he/she served the sentence imposed, the hardship suffered would be of exceptional severity greater than the court could have foreseen; and the risk of re-offending is past; and it can be demonstrated beyond doubt that there is a real and urgent need for the prisoner's permanent presence with his/her family; and early release will bring some significant benefit to the prisoner or his/her family.

In addition, in the case of all determinate sentence prisoners the following factors are considered: whether temporary release under the Prison Rules could significantly reduce the prisoner's and/or family's suffering; the length of the sentence still outstanding; the effect on the overall sentence passed by the court if early release is granted; and any remarks which the trial judge made on sentencing which may have a bearing on the question of release; the wishes of the prisoner and his/her family and the level of benefit which would derive to the prisoner and/or the family from permanent release; and in medical cases, the diagnosis and prognosis; in particular whether there is a specific estimate of life expectancy; and the degree of incapacitation.

The Secretary of State may also release a determinate sentence prisoner if he is satisfied that other exceptional circumstances exist.