Criminals to spend longer in jail as Bill of Rights puts public safety first

·4-min read
Dominic Raab - Joe Giddens/PA
Dominic Raab - Joe Giddens/PA

Criminals are to spend longer in prison under the new British Bill of Rights that will put public safety ahead of prisoners’ right to be freed.

The Bill lays down in law that any court will have to give precedence to “reducing the risk to the public” over the human rights of an offender.

The changes will underpin a tougher approach to parole for dangerous prisoners, the treatment of extremist inmates, foreign offenders’ challenges to deportation and the award of damages to people with criminal records.

The Bill of Rights published on Wednesday stated that any court “must give the greatest possible weight to the importance of reducing the risk to the public from persons who have committed offences in respect of which custodial sentences have been imposed”.

It will frame legislation, due to be published later this year, overhauling the Parole Board to prevent a repeat of scandals such as the release of Colin Pitchfork, a double child murderer, and an abortive decision to free John Worboys, the black-cab rapist.

Tightening the criteria for release

The new legislation will tighten the criteria by which offenders are released so that even though a Parole Board might judge they were no longer a threat to the public, it could be overridden if it were deemed safer to keep them behind bars.

The Bill of Rights, once it becomes law, will restrict the ability of any offender to claim that the decision to keep them in jail amounted to a breach of their human rights.

Under the parole reforms, Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, is taking back the power to block the release of high-risk criminals that was previously held by ministers.

It ended after legal challenges in the UK and Europe claimed it was a breach of prisoners’ human rights to let politicians rather than judges determine sentence lengths.

The Bill of Rights also paves the way for more terrorists to be held in “jails within jails” to stop hate preachers influencing other prisoners.

Mr Raab plans to expand the use of “separation centres” in high-security prisons where dangerous terrorists will be held for longer to keep them away from vulnerable inmates.

Making it easier to deport foreign criminals

The Bill will reduce the ability of lawyers to use human rights laws to claim that separating them from other prisoners breaches their right to socialise.

In one case, convicted killer Jemmikai Orlebar-Forbes, 28, was handed £15,000 in compensation from the Government after claiming a breach of his Article 8 rights under the Human Rights Act 1998 when he was segregated with terror offenders at high-security HMP Frankland, in County Durham.

Convicted killer Jemmikai Orlebar-Forbes
Convicted killer Jemmikai Orlebar-Forbes

Claims for damages by criminals or prisoners will also be restricted under the bill by giving courts the discretion to take account of their offences when deciding how much to pay out.

Mr Raab’s consultation response, published on Wednesday, said: “Courts will have wide discretion in how to take into account relevant past conduct of the claimant in the awarding of any damages, as part of all the circumstances of the case.”

Compensation for ruined nose hair clippers

Cases have included a triple killer who was awarded £815 in compensation after claiming jail guards ruined his nose hair clippers and a rapist who cost the state thousands in a claim that his health was damaged by sharing his cell with a smoker.

The new provision giving primacy to public safety will also reinforce clauses in the bill that make it easier to deport foreign criminals by restricting their ability to claim doing so breaches their right to a family life. The more dangerous the individuals are – based on the length of sentence – the less successful they may be.

A source said: “The longer the sentence you have the less likely you are to be able to establish that you have an ongoing and subsisting set of ties with a dependent that could mean they are really reliant on you staying in the country.”

Mr Raab told MPs on Wednesday: “We’re at risk of losing public confidence in our immigration controls if we can’t take the common-sense measures they expect and we’re also at risk of losing public confidence in human rights if we don’t restore a healthy dose of common sense.”

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