4. Letter from Andrew Bridges, HM
Chief Inspector of Probation, HM Inspectorate of Probation
Thank you very much for your letter of 11 October,
inviting me to provide more information to support what we said
in our review of the Anthony Rice case.
First, I am grateful that you have referred
to what we actually said in the report, and not to what some people
think we said in the report. I confirm that we made no comment
about the Human Rights Act itself. And it was a huge distortion
of our findings when some newspapers said that Rice was released
in order to "meet his human rights".
Indeed our findings were much more subtle, and
in my view they merit serious, sober attention, based on careful
analysis rather than ideological position-taking. Hence I welcome
You ask why we said that the people managing
this case started to allow its public protection considerations
to be undermined by its human rights considerations. This in turn
links directly with one of our Key Recommendations: When managing
a high Risk of Harm offender in the community, although proper
attention should be given to the human rights issues, the relevant
authorities involved should maintain in practice a top priority
focus on the public protection requirements of the case.
This is what we felt had not been achieved in
the case of Anthony Rice.
If I answer your secondary (final) question
first: I don't think it is a question at all of some decision-makers
sitting down and carefully examining the legislation and then
interpreting it wronglywe certainly did not find evidence
of such a thing in this case. Indeed I would add as a general
observation from my experience that if you sit case managers down
and ask them whether current human rights legislation prevents
them from carrying out their public protection responsibilities
the great majority are either fully aware that it doesn't, or
would at least know who to consult to check.
The problem in this instance was much more subtle,
and human, and in my view almost certainly not unique to this
case. It needs to be thought about in the context of what it is
like for the people carrying out these duties day by day. Such
staff have perhaps three or more dozen cases to manage, all different,
with managers (and yes, Inspectors) ready to criticise them if
they do the wrong thing with any of those cases at various key
points. They do not have a very high status within the whole process
even though they have (or should have, in my opinion) lead responsibility
for managing the case.
At the point of an oral Parole hearing, as an
officer if you are not proposing release you will be cross-examined
by a barrister to challenge your assessment, as well as by the
Board, but if you are proposing release you will only be questioned
by the Board. And then when you are managing the case on Licence
you might receive letters from the licensee's solicitor continually
challenging the Licence conditions and other requirements as being
excessive, accompanied by the prospect of judicial review. Your
attention is constantly being drawn to the question of whether
you are treating the offender fairly.
What we found in the Rice case was a lot of
evidence of the case manager, and the MAPPA meetings, giving plenty
of careful consideration to the issues of treating Rice fairly,
and responding accordingly to the solicitor's letters. Usually
(but not always, unfortunately) they took the correct view and
maintained the restrictions that Rice and his solicitor were complaining
about. All this discussion of issues of fairness was all
quite well documented. What we then did not find in the records
was evidence of sufficient discussion of their continuing assessment
and management of Rice's Risk of Harm to others. We summarised
our analysis in Chapter 10.3 of our report.
The key statement answering your main question
is in 10.3.12 where we say that the MAPPA in their deliberations
"gave more attention to justifying the proportionality of
the restrictions than to planning how to manage them effectively".
In broad terms our Finding is based on us discovering plenty of
evidence of them discussing the former, and relatively little
of them discussing the latter. Following our discussions with
the people involved we took the view that the attention of the
relevant officers was constantly drawn away from the latter towards
the former. We used the term "distracted" to describe
this, and as it happens this appears to have been accepted by
the people involved as a fair interpretation.
The issue with the Parole Board's decision to
release has some parallels. I have no doubt that Parole Board
members and staff have a proper understanding, in principle, of
how to implement their public protection duties while complying
with human rights considerations. But something much more subtle
happens as a result of the fragmentation of the process of making
decisions concerning a Life Sentence prisoner over a period of
years. We aimed to capture that in our report, and summarised
it in Chapter 10.2.
Overall I would take this opportunity to reiterate
our point in 11.3: ". . . it is increasingly difficult for
those charged with managing offenders through their sentences
to ensure that public protection considerations are not undermined
by the human rights considerations of each case."
It is not about the principle; it is about the
practice of carrying it out in real life. It is not that it is
impossible; it is just that it is becoming increasingly difficult
in practice. Experienced staff have commented to me in relation
to release from indeterminate sentences, especially for those
who have passed the "tariff date": they comment informally
that in the past officials arguably had too much power to continue
to hold the prisoner in custody without real challenge; nowadays
one effect of prisoner representation for prisoners is that their
job is now more about justifying keeping the prisoner in than
it is about making a clear case about why he or she is now safe
to let out.
I hope it is clear that my perspective arises
from the overall pattern of the evidence in this case, and also
from what I hear informally during other inspections and visits
to areas. I believe that these are subtle issues, which need discussing
in a calm and open-minded mannerI would welcome such a
discussion if you would find it helpful.
17 October 2006