JUSTICE – TERRORIST OFFENDERS (RESTRICTION OF EARLY RELEASE) BILL – 12 February 2020
Dr Julian Lewis: I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for giving way; he is being hugely generous. Does he accept that, while a lot of these people are terrorists and criminals, a significant number of them are clearly insane? The people who were in jail with the latest perpetrator said that that individual was plainly off his head. He had a history of drug abuse, and mind-altering substances clearly played a role. Why is it that if people are secular and insane, they will be locked up indefinitely, but if they can ascribe this to some sort of religious motive, we feel we have to give them a finite sentence and release them, when they might run amok at any stage?
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Robert Buckland): As ever, my right hon. Friend makes an interesting and thought-provoking point. While I will not go into the individual facts of this case, because it is subject to a police investigation and there is an ongoing inquiry, I will say this. The judgment as to a mental health disorder within the meaning set out in the Mental Health Act 1983 is a matter for two section 12 qualified clinicians – consultant psychiatrists – who will produce clinical evidence that will satisfy a court of the provisions of section 37 of the Act or, indeed, a restriction under section 41, which puts the power of release into my hands. That has to be satisfied on the basis of evidence.
It is important to make a distinction between that clinical approach and the risk assessment that we have to undertake when it comes to those who profess political motivation. It is thought-provoking in the sense that we need to think about a mechanism that would be robust and legally sound but would allow an objective assessment to be made about the risk posed by individuals, even after their sentence has been completed. Public protection has to come to the forefront of our thinking. ...
Dr Lewis: I take this opportunity to reiterate my previous intervention. The suspicion is that there are gravely mentally ill people who are in prison when they ought to be treated as if they are criminally insane and held in a secure psychiatric unit. The concern is that people are being treated as terrorists when they are clearly mad, simply because they have picked up some smattering of something that passes for a religious motivation.
Nick Thomas-Symonds: Where I can agree to a degree is that I certainly accept that there are people with mental health problems in prison who, frankly, should not be. The right hon. Gentleman refers, I think, to secure psychiatric units, where there is also a shortage of places. That is another issue that the Government need to accept on the basis of the past 10 years.
Dr Lewis: I am very interested in my hon. Friend’s lucid speech and particularly in the fact that he says the sentence imposed by judges is meant to reflect the gravity of the crime. It does explain why so many victims feel short-changed when people are let out early. When we come to consider the larger question of sentencing, would it not make more sense to have judges impose sentences that people will actually serve and to extend them if people misbehave in jail, rather than reducing them if they behave?
Sir Robert Neill: My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. We will want to look at a number of issues when we debate the sentencing Bill. However, I say by way of caution that when we start extending the sentence – the penalty – we run the risk of falling foul of the principle against retrospectivity. With respect, I say to him that that is not something I would wish to see. That is different from remission of the sentence for earned good behaviour, which is the traditional system that we grew up with. There is an important distinction to be drawn.
Dr Lewis: The point about extending the sentence is that it would be extended because of the commission of a further offence while the person was in prison, and that would not be retrospectivity.
Dr Lewis: Although I concur with what the hon. Gentleman [Kenny MacAskill] has said, he will recognise that keeping even one of these people under close surveillance can involve up to 50 members of special branch or MI5. Therefore, even a handful of them will severely test the resources of the security services.
Mr Khalid Mahmood: How do we assess and work with these radicalised people? A lot has been made of deradicalisation, but we need the right people, theologically speaking, to do it. We do not have a principal education facility to train imams who go into prisons. I had a friend who was deputy governor at HMP Birmingham. The prison brought in an imam to try to speak to somebody who was radicalising the rest of the inmates. After a two-hour one-to-one, the imam came out saying, “I think I agree with the inmate.” That was due to the so-called imam’s lack of knowledge. Just because someone calls themselves an imam, it does not mean that they are able to deal with this important issue.
Dr Lewis: Is the situation not even a little worse than that? There have been reports of imams from the Deobandi sect of Salafists being allowed access to prisoners.
Mr Mahmood: The right hon. Member speaks from experience of these issues. He is quite right to say that. ...
Dr Lewis: Can we think about specifics? The last two attacks were very different. As I said in an earlier intervention, the second of the two attacks was by someone who was clearly mentally deranged. The earlier attack was by someone who appeared to have taken all the deradicalisation on board and to be a model prisoner. We have to recognise that we are dealing with a kaleidoscope of personalities, not necessarily people who have been fooled by something and who can reasonably be brought out of that situation.