Ministers ‘should lose the right to decide whether life prisoners will be released’

A prison hallway


Ministers should no longer decide when life-sentenced criminals will be released, the government’s top judicial adviser has recommended.

The RSJ Sentencing and Youth Protection Council said the decision should be left to judges as government ministers were too heavily influenced by the political climate.

Currently, lifers become eligible for parole after 25 years, when they can take their case to a special committee that assesses their behavior and progress in prison, the risk of recidivism and the impact their release could have on the victims and their loved ones.

But the last word belongs to the Minister of Legal Protection, currently Franc Weerwind.

The RSJ said ministers had been reluctant in recent years to release prisoners for life, even though it had been recommended by the panel.

“The decision to pardon prisoners is susceptible to political influence because the decision rests with the minister, who is accountable to parliament,” he said. “It’s positive from a democratic accountability perspective, but it makes pardons dependent on the political climate.”

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