Saturday, July 05, 2014

Rights and the clutter of precedent: prisoner access to judicial determination of recall

A prisoner who has been recalled to prison after being released on conditions during the term of the sentence may wish to have the legality of that recall determined judicially rather than by executive decision.

Generally, parole boards do have to act judicially: see for example R v Parole Board, ex parte Smith and West [2005] UKHL 1, discussed here on 31 January 2005, but an executive decision might only be constrained by the need for it to be reasonable: compare R (Black) v Secretary of State for Justice [2009] UKHL 1, discussed here on 22 January 2009.

In the absence of a specific avenue of recourse to a judicial body, prisoners may look to international law for the right to have their recall to prison determined by a judicially. For example, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights provides in Article 9.4 that

Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.

And the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 5.4, says the same thing:

Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful.

Whether there is recourse to a right in international law will depend on the domestic legislation, which may exclude it, incorporate it, or be unclear.

Statutory schemes for prisoner release vary, but there is a general pattern, always subject to local variation. Broadly, there are two sorts of release during a sentence of imprisonment. First, during an early part of the sentence but after a period has elapsed, there is discretionary release. The prisoner is not entitled to be released at this stage, but if released may be recalled for some reason such as the impracticability of ongoing electronic monitoring. Secondly, after a set proportion of the sentence has passed, the prisoner may become entitled to release, although again may be recalled during the remainder of the sentence, usually only because it has become clear that the release entails an ongoing risk to the safety of a person or of the community.

Can prisoners who have been recalled after discretionary release expect to have access to a judicial determination of the lawfulness of that recall?

The United Kingdom Supreme Court has unanimously held no: Whiston, R (on the application of) [2014] UKSC 39 (2 July 2014). Lady Hale, in her brilliantly clear separate judgment, points out that this case decides that point only, not the question of access to judicial determination where a prisoner who was entitled to be released has been recalled.

But Lord Neuberger, jointly with Lords Kerr, Carnwath and Hughes, applies Strasbourg jurisprudence “as explained and applied in Giles” [43]. This refers to R (Giles) v Parole Board [2004] 1 AC 1, in which Lord Hope said at [51]:

“Where the prisoner has been lawfully detained within the meaning of article 5(1)(a) following the imposition of a determinate sentence after his conviction by a competent court, the review which article 5(4) requires is incorporated in the original sentence passed by the sentencing court. Once the appeal process has been exhausted there is no right to have the lawfulness of the detention under that sentence reviewed by another court. The principle which underlies these propositions is that detention in accordance with a lawful sentence passed after conviction by a competent court cannot be described as arbitrary. The cases where the basic rule has been departed from are cases where decisions as to the length of the detention have passed from the court to the executive and there is a risk that the factors which informed the original decision will change with the passage of time. In those cases the review which article 5(4) requires cannot be said to be incorporated in the original decision by the court. A further review in judicial proceedings is needed at reasonable intervals if the detention is not to be at risk of becoming arbitrary.”

This distinguishes determinate sentences (that is, sentences where the court has fixed the term) from indeterminate sentences (where the court has imposed life imprisonment or preventive detention). Although the concepts of judicial review and judicial determination are not distinguished, Lord Hope concluded that access to a judicial tribunal is only available to prisoners recalled during indeterminate sentences.

Lord Neuberger agreed [38], adding that the prisoner still has domestic remedies [40].

Instead of lumping all determinate sentences together, Lady Hale distinguished between prisoners who have been recalled from discretionary release (no access to judicial determination) from those recalled from release to which they had been entitled (access to judicial determination). The Parole Board, being required to act judicially, is the appropriate tribunal.

The difference is therefore between distinguishing between prisoners who are serving determinate, as opposed to indeterminate sentences, or between prisoners who were given discretionary release and those who were entitled to be released, during their sentences.

Lady Hale recognised that one Strasbourg decision was inconsistent with her analysis [57] (and [52]-[53]), but she suggested that its weakness was that it failed to appreciate the strength of a prisoner’s right to be released after serving a specified proportion of a sentence [53]. Lord Neuberger replied that the ECtHR may wish to reconsider its jurisprudence but currently he considered it had the effect that he had stated [49].

Lady Hale pointed out that the majority judgment went beyond the issue in this appeal, and that to the extent that she disagreed with it, it was obiter dicta [59].

Given that a prisoner on an indeterminate sentence has access to a judicial decision on recall, it certainly seems strange that a prisoner entitled to release does not. No doubt the majority in Whiston, if free to decide the issue unimpeded by the clutter of precedent, would be inclined to recognise that issues of breach of rights should always be open to judicial determination.

That is the point of general interest in this case. I should stress that local statutory schemes for release of prisoners may leave no room for issues of this nature. Whether that brings legislation in conflict with internationally recognised rights, and if it does, whether there is a remedy, is a different matter. On the Strasbourg interpretation, only recall during indeterminate sentences can be judicially determined, but on the alternative interpretation judicial determination is available if the relevant legislation gives a prisoner the right to be released after serving a proportion of the term. Some legal systems may already provide that remedy, for example by requiring all recall decisions to be made judicially by a parole board.