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Costa signals parole review

A review of Gibraltar’s parole system and the amount of time that prisoners must serve before being eligible for release on license will be among the tasks before the Government’s proposed Law Commission.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday Justice Minister, Neil Costa, said this is of particular relevance given the differences between the UK and local systems, which are not reflected in local sentencing practice.
In the UK, prisoners would have to serve at least half of their jail term before they could seek parole.
But in Gibraltar, the legislation governing early release on parole is different.
Here prisoners are eligible for parole after serving one third of their sentence, a throwback to the days when jail terms were served in the poor conditions of Moorish Castle.
The Chronicle understands that any adjustment to the local parole system would be focused on serious offences.
Mr Costa had outlined plans, in the form of draft legislation, for the creation of the Law Commission earlier this year.
The Bill is yet to be debated by the House but in answer to Opposition questions yesterday Mr Costa explained that the particular areas of sentencing reform to be looked at by the Commission are yet to be finalised.
One of its first tasks will be to draw up sentencing laws specific to Gibraltar rather than rely on UK guidelines.
“…I have in the past said that there appear to be a number of classes of offence where, due to local circumstances, following UK guidelines do not always produce appropriate sentences for Gibraltar.”
Mr Costa highlighted violent and sexual offences as examples of the types of offences that should be looked into by the Commission.
“Additionally, it may be that the Commission will look into offences which have been part of our statute book for a number of years and which were legislated for with maximum fines, which did not refer to the standard scale of fines but rather to a set amount, which has with the passage of time become a trivial amount.”
“In undertaking an exercise in examining such offences, the Commission is able to propose new fines which are more in keeping with the seriousness of each of these offences.”
The proposed commission will be made up of professionals and experts who will be able to give their opinion on a number specific issues relating to legal reform.
Asked by Shadow Justice Minister Elliott Phillips to confirm that this would represent a “significant undertaking”, Mr Costa agreed.
But, he said: “At the same time, we are very excited about the project and the work that will be undertaken.”
Speaking to the Chronicle, Mr Phillips said: “We asked the question about the law commission given the fact that we believe it is a substantial undertaking by the Ministry for Justice which we are pleased to see.”
“However, we have some concerns about when they review sentencing laws given the fact that sentences have already been imposed in Gibraltar and when we review sentences generally I think we have to have an eye on what’s developed in the UK, what sentences have been imposed here and where we are taking this forward.”

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