Delay In Move To Slash Remission For Sex Offenders

High risk sex offenders and violent criminals could continue being released half-way through their prison sentence up to two years after the Government announced the abolition of Ulster’s controversial 50% remission scheme.

The news comes as Secretary of State Peter Hain faces pressure in the House of Commons to explain why draft consultation on the new sentencing model has not yet begun, despite Criminal Justice Minister David Hanson vowing four months ago to replace the existing scheme.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned that House of Commons leader Jack Straw has agreed to raise the issue with Mr Hain after DUP MP Nigel Dodds told him he was very concerned that there has been no indication of when the new scheme will be introduced.

The Government said it would scrap automatic 50% remission for high risk offenders in December following the Belfast Telegraph’s Justice For Attracta Campaign, calling for a change in legislation.

Over 35,000 people signed up to the campaign, which was launched after it emerged that Strabane pensioner Attracta Harron was murdered by high risk offender Trevor Hamilton shortly after he was released from jail half-way through a seven year sentence for rape.

Despite Government reassurances that the policy will be replaced, speculation was mounting today that it could take until December 2008 to bring forward the new legislation.

Peter Smith QC, chairman of the Life Sentence Review Commissioners – soon to become the Parole Commissioners of Northern Ireland – said there is speculation it could take two years to bring in the new sentencing model rather than the one year initially suggested.

“There is likely to be a delay because resources will have to cope with devolution. This will be very resource dependent. It will greatly increase the number of people in the process, whether they are in prison supervision or in community rehabilitation,” he said.

It is thought the new public protection model, which should help keep dangerous offenders behind bars until they no longer pose a risk to the public, could cost several million pounds a year to fund.

Meanwhile, during business discussions in the House of Commons, Mr Dodds told Mr Straw that the public are concerned that more high risk offenders could slip through the net because of the delay.

“Unfortunately, it appears that the measure may not come into effect for some considerable time – we have yet to see the legislation, which is a matter for the House, not the Northern Ireland Assembly. I urge the Leader of the House to speak to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland so that we can have a statement announcing when that will happen. People are fearful that there may be other cases and people convicted now will be able to benefit from 50% remission in years to come.”

Mr Straw reassured Mr Dodds that he would make Mr Hain fully aware of his concerns.