Indeterminate custodial sentence

This page has information on indeterminate custodial sentences (ICS).

Receiving an indeterminate custodial sentence (ICS)

In any case where a life sentence is not suitable for a person convicted of a serious sexual or violent offence, the court can impose an ICS or an extended custodial sentence (ECS).

If the court decides that an ECS  isn't enough to protect the public, then an ICS will be imposed.

An ICS

When someone commits a serious sexual or violent offence listed in schedule one of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 and the court believes the offender is likely to commit similar offences, they can give an ICS sentence. 

No release date is given for an ICS. Offenders serving an ICS will be given a “tariff” date which is the earliest date that they may become eligible for consideration for release by the Parole Commissoners (PCNI).

The tariff must be a minimum of two years. A referral will be made to PCNI by the Department of Justice or the Secretary of State (where matters of national security are involved) to consider release around six months before the tariff date.

An ICS prisoner will stay in custody until they have demonstrated to the satisfaction of the PCNI that they can be released safely into the community.

Where the decision has been taken not to release a prisoner at the tariff date, the Department of Justice or the Secretary of State must refer the case to the PCNI within two years, or sooner if recommended by PCNI.

Licence conditions

ICS prisoners who are released have standard licence conditions as well as bespoke conditions prescribed by the Department of Justice or Secretary of State, which will stay in place for at least 10 years after the release date and sometimes for the rest of their lives.

During the licence period, conditions of a licence can be added, varied or cancelled in consultation with the PCNI.  An offender is liable for recall to custody if they break their conditions.

A licence might stop when:

  • the licence is revoked by the Department of Justice or Secretary of State and the prisoner recalled to prison where it is considered that it is necessary for the protection of the public - this will happen through a referral by PBNI to the PCNI for the recommendation of a revocation but can happen in urgent situations without an initial recommendation
  • a prisoner applies to the PCNI after 10 years on licence, to consider if it is necessary to keep the conditions

Once recalled, an offender must stay in custody until released by the PCNI.

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