The Prisoners (Disclosure of Information about Victims) Bill 2019-20 was introduced in the House of Commons on 8 January 2020. It is due to have Second Reading on 11 February 2020.
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The Bill would place a statutory obligation on the Parole Board to take into account an offender’s non-disclosure of certain information when making a decision about the release from prison of certain prisoners. The Parole Board would be required to take into account a prisoner’s non-disclosure of information about a victim’s remains or the identity of child victims in indecent images.
Parole Board guidance currently advises panel members to consider any failure or refusal by an offender to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s remains when assessing suitability for release. It is also established Parole Board practice to consider the non-disclosure of relevant information by offenders in cases involving living victims. The Government has said the Bill would ensure that the Parole Board take such matters into account by placing the guidance and practice into law.
The statutory obligation would apply to prisoners serving:
- a life sentence for murder or manslaughter
- an extended determinate sentence (or a similar predecessor sentence) for manslaughter or taking or making an indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child.
The obligation to take into account the non-disclosure would apply to all such sentences, including those that were imposed before the coming into force of the provisions contained in this Bill. The obligation would apply to decisions about a first release, not any subsequent releases following recall to prison.
The Bill responds to the campaign for “Helen’s law”, led by Marie McCourt, whose daughter, Helen, was murdered in 1988. Helen McCourt’s body has never been found. The Bill also responds to the case of Vanessa George, a nursery worker who was convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse and taking and distributing indecent images of children and refused to name the victims.
Some have questioned whether the provisions of the Bill will make any difference in practice given the guidance already followed by the Parole Board.
Explanatory Notes for the Bill are available. The Ministry of Justice has published papers concerning the Bill, including a factsheet, equalities statement and European Convention on Human Rights memorandum. See: Gov.uk, Prisoners (Disclosure of Information about Victims) Bill. Information about the Bill can also be found on the page for the Bill on the Parliament website: Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill 2019-20.
The provisions of the Bill extend and apply to England and Wales only. Prisons and sentencing (including release provisions) are devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland. For further detail see paragraph 8 and annex A of the Explanatory Notes.
The Bill would come into force on a date to be specified by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument.