Law chief: too many people are locked up

New head of Supreme Court blames Government for overcrowded prisons

Controversial public protection sentences and inadequate penal funding have combined to drive up the record numbers of people being kept in prisons, the president of the new Supreme Court has warned.

Lord Phillips, who next month leads a panel hearing the first case to go before the court, said under-resourcing was "a very serious problem" facing prisons in England and Wales and he renewed his call for a greater use of community alternatives to jail.

This month the prison population hit a record high of 84,442, despite more than 60,000 inmates benefiting from an early release scheme introduced in June 2007.

In an interview with The Independent, Lord Phillips said: "The reasons for the rise in the prison population are quite complex but there is no doubt it has been steadily growing and the forecast is that this trend will continue. Certainly some criminal legislation dealing with sentencing has had the effect of imposing longer sentences or sentences which keep people in prison until they demonstrate they are no longer dangerous."

Of particular concern has been the new indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP), brought in four years ago. Last week the Prison Governors' Association and the Liberal Democrats said that hundreds of convicts who could be released were being held in jails because the Government had failed to pay for enough drug treatment and rehabilitation courses.

Yesterday Lord Phillips said he also had reservations about the IPP sentence which includes a minimum term, after which the prisoner has to show that he or she is suitable for release.

The judge said that he knew the legislation had been changed to meet some of the concerns but that he was not "conversant" with the latest figures regarding prisoners detained beyond their minimum sentence. The Government says a further £3m has been made available to help with resourcing IPPs.

"When I was involved it was apparent there was a resource problem when dealing with IPP prisoners in relation to giving them the rehabilitation that they needed in order to be in a position to demonstrate they were no longer a danger, and also there was a problem with the resources of the parole board in considering whether or not they ought to be released."

He added: "Prisons have to be provided for those who judges send to prison. What governs the overall prison population is a complicated question and legislation dealing with sentencing can increase or decrease a prison population."

He explained: "I have always been in favour of alternatives to custody where that course is open to the judge."

In July, Lord Phillips headed a panel of judges who ruled that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, must publish guidelines on assisted suicide prosecutions after a legal challenge by Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer. On Tuesday Mr Starmer set out his new policy.

The Supreme Court chief justice said he had only read a summary of the guidance in the newspapers but was satisfied that Mr Starmer had complied with the ruling.

"Our judgment should be left to speak for itself but we did not dictate to him what guidelines he should lay down. What we required was that there should be guidelines to clarify his policy."

Had these guidelines changed the law or merely clarified it? "I don't think I am going to enter into this kind of discussion. It seems to me that the guidelines have done what guidelines are intended to do, which is to clarify the policy in relation to prosecutions."

Lord Phillips has been criticised for expressing a personal view about Mrs Purdy's plight after he had ruled on the case. But he rejects any suggestion that this was evidence of bias on his part.

"I did not make a comment about our original judgment, I was asked point blank for a personal view in relation to a person who commits suicide. I was not making any statement in relation to those who assist suicide; I was expressing sympathy with somebody in the predicament that Mrs Purdy might find herself."

He added: "All judges recognise that they have to be very careful about what views they express in public."

Next month, the Supreme Court will open after a £50m refurbishment of the Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square.

The first case concerns a high-profile challenge to anti-terror laws that may have breached the human rights of British citizens who have found themselves financially blacklisted and their assets frozen.

Lord Phillips said the decision to make that the first case was in part his.

"We had discussions about which case we should take as the first case and we wanted to take one that had some general importance," he said.

"It is a case which I think the public will find interesting. It's one of a number of cases which we have had to deal with where there may be a tension of human rights on the one hand and dealing with the challenge of terrorism on the other."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border