Open Prison Absconder Policy Upheld On Appeal

Michael Wheatley
Michael Wheatley

A High Court ruling that a policy of excluding prisoners with a history of absconding from being transferred to more lenient open conditions is unlawful has been overturned.

The Government’s policy was introduced following high-profile media reports last year of prisoners with a history of violence absconding while on release on temporary licence (ROTL) from open prison.

Among them was Michael Wheatley, an armed robber nicknamed the Skull Cracker.

In May last year, the then justice secretary Chris Grayling publicly announced that the Government was ”tearing up the system as it exists at the moment” and introduced his absconder policy.

But in April this year two senior judges at London’s High Court ruled that excluding transfers – save in exceptional circumstances – for prisoners with a history of absconding, escape or “serious ROTL failure” was inconsistent with his own directions to the Parole Board.

The long-standing directions state that ”a phased release” from closed to open prison is necessary for most inmates serving indeterminate sentences ”to test the prisoner’s readiness for release into the community”.

After their decision was announced at the High Court, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Mitting gave the Justice Secretary permission to challenge the ruling.

Today, three judges at the Court of Appeal in London allowed the Government’s appeal.

Lord Justice Sales, announcing the court’s unanimous decision, said: “My conclusion … the various challenges to the lawfulness of the absconder policy must fail.”

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