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Guidelines to applicant prisoners

The following document is provided to prisoners as a guideline to how the Commission operates. Although it is clearly aimed at applicants, for all those interested it is a simple exposition of the stages of the process involving decisions about review of sentences. For a full and detailed description, refer to the Rules.


Guidance for Applicants

Purpose

This leaflet gives an outline of

  • who is eligible for early release
  • how to apply
  • what will happen next

The commissioners have issued this for guidance only. For complete information, you or your advisors should study the relevant legislation: The Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, the Northern Ireland (Sentences ) Act 1998 (Sentence Review Commissioners) Rules 1998 and the Northern Ireland (Sentences ) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 1998.

If you wish to use a lawyer to assist you in preparing your application, you can apply for money to pay for legal advice and/or representation. You do this by applying to the Commissioners for a ‘legal aid direction’, using FORM B

Am I eligible?

You will be eligible to have your sentence reduced if all of these apply:

  • you are serving your sentence in Northern Ireland;
  • the offence in question was committed before 10th April 1998;
  • the offence was a ‘scheduled’ offence and you were tried by a no-jury ‘Diplock’ court in Northern Ireland (or equivalent offence if you were tried in Great Britain);
  • you were given a sentence of five years or longer (including a life sentence);
  • you are not a supporter of any of the following organisations

The list of specified organisations for the period 1 April 2008 to 22 July 2008 was:

The Continuity Irish Republican Army

The Loyalist Volunteer Force

“The Orange Volunteers”

The “Real” Irish Republican Army

The Red Hand Commandos

The Red Hand Defenders

The Ulster Volunteer Force

This list is subject to review by the Secretary of State at any time and on 23 July 2008, the Secretary of State made the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act (Specified Organisations) Order 2008.

Therefore the list of specified organisations for the period 23 July 2008 to 31 March 2009 was:

The Continuity Irish Republican Army

The Loyalist Volunteer Force

“The Orange Volunteers”

The “Real” Irish Republican Army

The Red Hand Defenders

Óglaigh na hEireann (ONH)

  • if you were released immediately, you would not be likely to become:

a supporter of any of the organisations listed above, or

involved in acts of terrorism relating to Northern Ireland

  • if you are serving a life sentence, you would not be a danger to the public if released immediately.

N.B. A series of sentences being served consecutively must include at least one of five years or more in order to fall within the scope of the legislation. No sentence imposed for a non-scheduled offence can be reduced. Back to the top

When would I qualify for release?

If you are serving a fixed-term sentence imposed before 28 July 1998, the earlier of:

  • the date where you have served one third of the sentence (plus any remission may have lost), or
  • 28 July 2000

This date will be determined by the Prison Service, if the Commissioners allow your application.

N.B. The date 28 July 2000 and the two year period referred to below may be changed by parliament in the future.

If you are serving a life sentence imposed before 28th July 1998, the earlier of:

  • a date which the Commissioners consider represents about two thirds of that which you would otherwise have spent in prison, or
  • 28 July 2000

This date will be determined by the Commissioners.

If you were sentenced after 28th July 1998:

on the second anniversary of the date when you start your sentence

All release dates are subject to the normal rule that where the calculated date falls on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, the release will take place on the next normal working day.

You cannot be released until after the Commissioners have made a substantive determination in respect of your sentence.Back to the top

How do I apply?

You apply by sending to the Sentence Review Commissioners, P.O. Box 1011, BELFAST BT2 7SR

  • a fully completed form (FORM A)
  • any supporting information or documents on which you wish to rely; and
  • any decision notices and reasons previously given by the Commissioners of the Secretary of State in response to a previous application on your behalf.

It is important that all relevant information, including any upon which you might wish to rely on at a subsequent hearing, should be provided at this state if unnecessary delay and the need for further applications are to be avoided.

You must send the Commissioners two sets of thses papers, one containing the original application being marker ’ORIGINAL’ and the other ‘COPY’.

Who can help me apply?

You can ask anybody to help you prepare your application.

If you wish to use a lawyer you can apply for money to pay for legal advice/or representation, using FORM B.

What will happen when I apply

As soon as we receive an application, we will send you a written acknowledgement.

Your application will be allotted to a single Commissioner, who will be given responsibility for ancillary decisions on behalf of the of the Commissioners about your application (including any legal aid direction). He or she will also have the power to vary, on application, the time limits for particular actions.

The Commissioners will send a copy of your application to the Prison Service within a week of receiving it.

The Prison Service (acting on behalf of the Secretary of State) are required to give the Commissioners a written response within three weeks. The Commissioners will send you a copy of this response within a week of receiving it.

In prioritising the consideration of applications, the Commissioners will take into account the date on which the applicant would likely to be released if the application were to be successful. Those with the earliest dates will generally be given priority.

A panel of three Commissioners will be appointed to consider the application and response and give a Preliminary Indication of their decision. You and the Prison Service will be given written notice of the preliminary indication as soon as possible after the Commissioners have given it.

If the preliminary indication is that the Commissioners are minded to refuse your application, you and the Prison Service will be given a written statement of the reasons.

If the preliminary indication is that the Commissioners are minded to allow your application, you and the Prison Service will be given a written statement of the relevant sentence and, for any life sentence, the associated revised release date.

You and the Prison Service must indicate to the Commissioners in writing within two weeks whether or not you wish to challenge the preliminary indication.

If neither of you challenges the preliminary indication within two weeks, the Commissioners will confirm it in the form of a substantive determination. (See below for description)
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What happens if there is a challenge?

The Commissioners will set aside the preliminary indication and convene a hearing prior to making a substantive determination.

You will be given at least three weeks written notice of the date, time and place of the hearing.

The hearing will normally be held in the prison where you are held and conducted in private unless the Commissioners decide otherwise.

Can I be represented at the hearing?

You will be able to be represented at the hearing by your lawyer or another person of your choice.

You may not, without obtaining the prior agreement of the Commissioners, be represented by anybody who is:

  • serving a sentence of imprisonment
  • on licence, having been released from prison; or
  • has an unspent conviction for an imprisonable offence;

You may not be represented by anyone who is liable to be detained under the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986.

You must give details of any representative on FORM A and notify the Commissioners and Prison Service within a week of any change in the name, address or occupation of your representative.
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What will happen at the hearing?

You and the Prison Service (on behalf of the Secretary of State) will be able to appear and speak at the hearing and may, in particular:

  • make opening and closing submissions (in person and/or through a representative)
  • hear each other’s evidence and submissions;
  • put questions to each other;
  • call any witnesses authorised by the Commissioners; and
  • put questions to any witnesses

but may not rely on or refer to material that was not included in the application or response papers without the leave of the Commissioners.

If you wish to introduce additional material, you will need to make an ancillary application to the Commissioners.

The substantive declaration

You will be given written notice of the Commissioners’ substantive determination as soon as possible after it is made. This notice will include:

  • where your application has been refused, a statement of the reasons;
  • where your application has been allowed, a declaration will specify:

- the sentence(s) in respect of which you have a right to be released under the Act; and

- in relation to a life sentence, the release date that the Commissioners consider appropriate.

- where a previous determination is being revoked, the reasons for this. Back to the top

Can I appeal against a refusal?

You can make a further application, but the Commissioners can consider it only if:

  • the circumstances have changed since your most recent previous determinations: or
  • you submit new material that was not put before the Commissioners when they made that determination.

The only other way of challenging a substantive determination by the Commissioners is by means of a judicial review.

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