Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

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 your letter.

  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 wrongly—we 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 manner—I would welcome such a discussion if you would find it helpful.

17 October 2006

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