Law Commission tables proposals for parole reform
The minimum time a prisoner must serve before being eligible for release will be hiked up from one third of a fixed term prison sentence to one half, under proposals set out in draft legislation.
Should the draft legislation be enacted, it will draw Gibraltar’s parole system in line with that of the UK.
This follows a recommendation by the Law Commission to the Gibraltar Government to reform the Prison Act 2011.
Additionally, the Law Commission’s envisaged reforms introduce three different categories based on the overall length of the sentence.
Firstly, prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less would be automatically released at the half way point of their sentences without licence conditions.
Secondly, those inmates serving sentences greater than 12 months and up to four years will also be automatically released at the half way point.
But in such cases, inmates will be subject to licence conditions to be advised by the Parole Board, up to three-quarters of the sentence.
Lastly, inmates serving sentences greater than four years will be eligible to apply for parole at the half way point.
The release of such inmates would not be automatic and would require consideration by the Parole Board as is currently the case. Licence conditions, subject to any revocation or additional days that may be imposed, will remain in force for three-quarters of the sentence.
The proposed changes to the Prison Act will have prospective, and not retrospective, effect. This means that the amendments will only apply to persons sentenced after the commencement of those new provisions.
It is also proposed that the system of remission should be replaced by a system of the award of additional days.
Additional days for disciplinary offences are added to the computation of any period of time used to calculate any period governing a prisoner’s release.
The effect of the additional days is to delay release from prison by the aggregate number of additional days awarded. It also enables those days to be added to a licence period.
Justice Minister Neil Costa announced the formation of the Law Commission in June 2017, which is a statutory body, formed to provide advice on the reform of certain branches of the law.
The Law Commission includes the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General as ex-officio members, together with distinguished professionals in different fields in environment, financial services and education.
The Law Commission is also comprised by Supreme Court Judge, Karen Ramagge Prescott and the Stipendiary Magistrate, Charles Pitto.
Since the first meeting in December 2017, the Law Commission has met on a further four occasions, focusing on the point at which a person serving a sentence becomes eligible for parole under the Prison Act 2011.
The Law Commission received evidence from the Prison Superintendent and the Deputy Prison Superintendent, the Parole Board and members of the Probation Services
The Parole Board is an independent statutory body that considers all requests for parole.
It is the Parole Board’s duty to advise the Minister on whether to release a prisoner on licence and on which conditions.
Persons who do not abide by the conditions set out in their parole licenses can be recalled to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.
The Minister for Justice must act on the advice of the Parole Board to release a prisoner on licence, but, if he thinks it appropriate in a particular case, he may ask the Parole Board to reconsider their decision.
The Minister may make an application to the Supreme Court following such reconsideration, if he still disagrees with the Parole Board.
At present, in general terms, an inmate is eligible to apply for parole once they have served one third of their sentence.
In light of the evidence submitted, the Law Commission made a series of recommendations to Gibraltar Government to reform the Prison Act 2011.
The Government will now place these proposals for consultation by way of a Command Paper, which sets out the full provisions of the draft Bill to amend the Prison Act 2011.
Mr Costa said: “I wish to wholeheartedly thank all the members of the Law Commission for their invaluable contributions and expertise in carefully considering our parole laws.”
“Whereas a significant period of time has been taken by the Law Commission to formulate these recommendations to the Government, it was important to get them right.”
“Any reforms to our laws that deprive persons of their constitutional right to liberty, requires extensive discussion and thoughtful analysis.”
“It is important to note that the proposed changes to the Prison Act will have prospective, and not retrospective, effect.”
“This means that the amendments will only apply to persons sentenced after the commencement of those new provisions.”
“I look forward to receiving the community’s submissions on the draft Bill on whether the Law Commission has struck the right balance between the objective of deterring persons from committing criminal offences, protecting the public and promoting successful reintegration into the community.”