Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Twenty-Seventh Report

2 S.R. 2003/293: defective drafting

Prisoner Release Victim Information (Northern Ireland) Scheme 2003 (S.R. 2003/293)

2.1 The Committee draws the special attention of both Houses to this Scheme on the ground that it is defectively drafted.

2.2 This Scheme requires the Secretary of State to make available to victims of offences information about the discharge or temporary release of persons serving sentences of imprisonment imposed in respect of such offences.

2.3 Article 4(2)b) provides that the information to be made available in relation to the temporary release of a prisoner includes the fact that his temporary release is being considered. Article 4(6)(b) requires this information to be provided to the victim before temporary release is considered where it is reasonably practicable to do so. The Committee asked the Northern Ireland Office to explain the circumstances where it will be reasonably practicable to inform the victim that the prisoner's temporary release is being considered before it is in fact being considered. In its first memorandum printed at Appendix 2, the Department states that as, under the enabling Act, the victim may make representations concerning temporary release the intention of the Act must be that the information is to be provided before a decision is made on temporary release. The Committee acknowledges that point. But the Act obviously does not contemplate the Scheme specifying an impossible requirement. In order to achieve the stated objective, it might have been more appropriate for Article 4(6) to have required the victim to be informed, whenever reasonably practicable, that temporary release was being considered before a decision on the matter was reached. The Department acknowledges that the wording is not as clear as it might be and undertakes to clarify it when the Scheme is next amended. The Committee accordingly reports Article 4(6)(b) for defective drafting, acknowledged by the Department.

2.4 Article 5(2) specifies circumstances in which the Secretary of State is not required to make information available. One such circumstance, set out in sub-paragraph (c), is that the offender was convicted of the relevant offence before the coming into operation of the Scheme and he has less than three months left to serve. In a second memorandum (also printed at Appendix 2), the Department accepts that Article 5(2)(c) does not have the desired effect. The intention was that this exception should apply only when, at the time the Scheme came into force, the offender had less than three months left to serve. As the Department explains, this provision confers a discretion on the Secretary of State to refuse to supply information. The Secretary of State intends to apply a policy whereby he only refuses to provide information on this ground in the narrower circumstances that were intended. The Department intends to amend the Scheme when it has been in operation for a few months, and will address this error as part of that exercise. The Committee accordingly reports Article 5(2)(c) for defective drafting, acknowledged by the Department.

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Prepared 24 September 2003