HL Deb 17 October 2002 vol 639 cc69-70WA
Lord Hughes of Woodside

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What procedural changes are being made following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of 28 May in the case of Stafford concerning the release of mandatory life sentence prisoners. [HL6020]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

Mandatory life sentence prisoners who have served the minimum period necessary 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, the Home Secretary has decided to change the administrative arrangements for the review and release of mandatory life sentence prisoners. These administrative arrangements will apply to all such prisoners whose next Parole Board review begins on or after 1 January 2003. The changes will mean that in most instances these prisoners' cases will be heard initially, as now, by the Parole Board on the papers which will make a provisional recommendation. If prisoners wish to make representations about provisional recommendations it will then be open to them to request an oral hearing before the Parole Board at which they may have legal representation. They will normally receive full disclosure of all material relevant to the question of whether they should be released. They will also be able to examine and cross-examine witnesses. Similarly the Secretary of State may also require an oral hearing of the board in cases where he believes further examination of the evidence is required.

If, at the end of the review process, the Parole Board favours the release of a mandatory life sentence prisoner once the minimum period has been served the Home Secretary will normally accept such a recommendation.

The Stafford judgement affects only the process by which the decision is made on whether to release mandatory life sentence prisoners. It does not relate to the period of detention which such prisoners must serve to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence, or Parole Board reviews that take place before the end of that period. There will usually be no change to the dates set for Parole Board reviews of prisoners who have served that period. Those prisoners serving whole life tariffs do not have their cases referred to the Parole Board.