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Unlock Category: 8. Criminal justice system

Supervision in the community (after release from prison and on probation or community order)

This page is for information only. We are unable to provide advice on this. For reasons why, click here.


This information responds to a number of queries we’ve started receiving about serving sentences in the community. This isn’t a core area that Unlock can provide advice on, but we thought it would be helpful to explain the changes that took place in early 2015, and to outline how these might have an impact on people with convictions serving their sentence in the community.

Why is this important?

On 1st February 2015, the Offender Rehabilitation Act (ORA) came into force. The Act provides that all those released from short prison sentences will now first be subject to a standard licence period for the remainder of their prison sentence to be served in the community, and then be subject to an additional supervision period.

The Government estimates that some 50,000 individuals will ‘benefit’ from this additional support and that it will help to tackle high reoffending rates.

The new legislation applies to individuals:-

  • Whose offence was committed on or after the 1st February 2015
  • Who were sentenced to a prison term of more than 1 day
  • Who will be 18 years or over when released

How will the changes affect individuals serving prison sentences?

Reduction of unconditional releases

Previously, adults serving prison sentences of less than 12 months were released unconditionally after one half of their sentence had been served.

Under the ORA, adults serving prison sentences of less than 12 months, for an offence committed after 1 February 2015, will be released on licence after serving one half of their sentence in prison and will serve the remaining period in the community.

Introduction of a new supervision period for 12 months after release

The ORA also introduced a new period of post sentence supervision for anybody sentenced to less than 2 years in prison.

Those sentenced to less than 2 years and released on licence (as outlined above), will be subject to an additional period of supervision (for the purposes of rehabilitation), once their licence period comes to an end. The licence and supervision period will together add up to 12 months.

Depending on the length of the prison sentence, the length of the supervision period can vary significantly.

Example 1

Person A is sentenced to two months in prison. He serves one month in prison, one month on licence and received an additional 11 months post sentence supervision to make a total of 12 months.

Example 2

Person B is sentenced to 18 months in prison. He serves 9 months of this sentence in prison and is then released to serve the remaining 9 months in the community on license. In addition, after his 18 month sentence comes to an end, he receives a further 3 months supervision in the community.

Example 3

Person C has served 6 months on remand. At trial, he is sentenced to 6 months in prison. He is released immediately, and then receives a further 12 months supervision.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes, these include:-

  • Those sentenced to 1 day and who are therefore not taken into prison, for example, fine defaulters
  • Those aged under 18 on the last day of their prison sentence
  • Those who committed the offence before 1st February 2015.

What do supervision requirements include?

  • A requirement to be of good behaviour and not to behave in a way which undermines the purpose of the supervision period
  • A requirement not to commit any further offence
  • A requirement to keep in touch with the supervisor in accordance with the instructions of the supervisor
  • A requirement to reside permanently at an address approved by the supervisor and to obtain the prior permission of the supervisor for any stay of one or more nights at a different address
  • A requirement not to undertake work, or a particular type of work, unless it is approved by the supervisor and to notify the supervisor in advance of any proposal to undertake work or a particular type of work
  • A requirement not to travel outside the British Islands, except with prior permission of the supervisor or in order to comply with a legal obligation
  • A requirement to participate in activities in accordance with any instructions given by a supervisor
  • A drug testing requirement (for individuals with problematic drug use)
  • A drug appointment requirement (for individuals with problematic drug use)

What happens if I breach a requirement?

Breaches during the standard licence period are dealt with by the National Probation Service who have the discretion to consider the following courses of action:-

  • Issuing a warning to the individual
  • Asking the Prison Governor for a variation in licence conditions (for example by adding a curfew or imposing electronic monitoring)
  • Recalling an individual to prison

Anybody who breaches the requirements of the new supervision period will be taken back to court. The court will then have the power to impose the following sanctions:-

  • A fine
  • Unpaid work
  • A curfew
  • A return to prison

Those being returned to prison will generally be recalled for an automatic period of 14 days (as opposed to 28 days for those with longer sentences) but, where there is assessed to be a risk of serious harm to the public, individuals can be recalled until the end of their sentence.

If the breach constitutes a criminal offence which leads to another conviction, a further sentence will be given.

Who is responsible for supervision?

The Offender Rehabilitation Act accompanied the new Transforming Rehabilitation Programme which saw 35 Probation Trusts abolished and replaced by a National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC’s). These CRC’s manage approximately 70% of the supervision for less serious individuals while the remaining 30% (considered more serious) are managed by the NPS. The assessment of risk (i.e. low, medium or high) is made by the NPS.

Supervision for individuals serving community orders or suspended sentences

For individuals serving a community order or suspended sentence, the Offender Rehabilitation Act has created a new Rehabilitative Activity Requirement which replaces the previous ‘activity’ and ‘supervision’ requirement.

Rehabilitation Activity Requirements can include:-

  • Instructions to participate in specified activities
  • Instructions to go to a specified place
  • Activities that form part of an accredited programme
  • Activities with a reparative purpose, such as restorative justice.

An activity is considered a restorative justice activity if:-

  • The participants consist of, or include, the ‘offender’ and one or more victims
  • The aim of the activity is to maximise the individuals awareness of the impact of the offending concerned on the victims
  • The activity gives a victim or victims an opportunity to talk about, or otherwise express experience of, the offending and its impact

A court will determine which requirements to impose in a community order or suspended sentence order taking into consideration the advice in any Pre-Sentence Report.

When considering the content of a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement, the National Probation Service must identify and pay proper regard to the rehabilitative and criminogenic needs of individuals, as well as an assessment of their offending behaviour and associated risks. For further information see PI58/2014

Each Community Rehabilitation Company will make information available to the NPS about what rehabilitative services are available in their contract package and this will shape the advice the NPS gives to the courts on sentencing. This means that rehabilitation activity requirements are likely to vary from one contract package area to another.

More information

  1. For practical information – More information on community order and suspended prison sentences
  2. To discuss this with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this you can contact our helpline.


Criminal legal aid / contributions to legal aid

Aim of this information

The purpose of this information is to set out who might be eligible for legal aid, and also to look at who might be subject to paying for their legal aid costs.

Why is this important?

We believe that everybody should have the right to legal representation before they accept a caution, or when they go to court. However, it’s important to be aware that you may need to contribute towards the cost of your legal aid and this can have consequences long after the conviction.

Getting free advice at the Police Station

If you interviewed by the police under caution, or have been arrested, you are always entitled to free legal advice and representation. You will not incur any costs for this legal representation. In some circumstances, for example where you’re interviewed about a minor offence, that this right will be limited to advice over the telephone.

Getting advice in-between the Police Station and going to court

Often the police will release you from the police station to make further inquiries before a decision is made on whether to proceed with a case against you. You will usually be placed on pre-charge unconditional bail whilst these inquiries take place.

During this time, the legal representation you received in the police station won’t cover any work you want them to do. There are however, other ways that you may be eligible to have publicly funded legal advice and assistance. The availability of this particular type of legal representation depends on your financial position.

To get a representation order (what used to be called Legal Aid) an application has to be made to the court. Your legal representation will help you do this. If you didn’t receive any while you were at the police station, you should contact some criminal legal aid providers near to where you live.

The application is subject to two tests.

The first test is called the “interests of justice” test. Essentially, an order will only be granted if the court considers your case “serious enough” for you to need full legal representation.

Generally, if you are charged with a non-imprisonable offence your case will not pass this first test. Such offences include driving document offences, minor Public Order Act offences and being Drunk and Disorderly. However, even if you are charged with one of these types of offence, you may still be able to get representation – you should be guided by the solicitors you’re in touch with about this.

If you are charged with an “indictable only” offence (an offence that can only be heard in the Crown Court) your case will always satisfy this first test.

For those offences that fall in-between these two categories, your solicitor should be able to advise whether or not you’re likely to pass this first test.

The second test is a means test. This is based on your earnings. It’s not possible for us to give the details of this, as it’s quite complex. We suggest you speak with a criminal legal aid solicitors near to where you live and explain your financial situation.

There is no contribution system with Magistrates Court legal aid; you are either financially eligible and you will receive a full representation order or you will not. If you are not eligible for legal aid, then you will have to consider whether you wish to pay privately, or represent yourself. There may also be other local schemes where you can get help with representation.

If your application for legal aid is refused you can appeal the decision. You would also be able to re-apply if your circumstances were to change after an unsuccessful application.

If you are convicted you may be required to pay a contribution to the prosecution costs of the case. This is regardless of whether you received legal aid.

If you appear in the Magistrates Court but are not eligible for a full representation order then you may be able to receive advice and assistance from the Duty Solicitor at court that day. This type of representation is limited to one hearing. However, they’re not able to assist if you are facing non-imprisonable offences.

If your case goes to the Crown Court for Trial you will automatically qualify for legally aid representation once you have completed an application form. After you have been means tested, you may have to pay towards the cost of your defence. This contribution could be from your income whilst the case is ongoing and/or from your capital, if you are convicted.

You will be asked to provide evidence of your income and assets. If you do not your payments could be increased which would result in you paying more towards your defence costs. If you do not tell the truth on your legal aid application you could also be prosecuted.

You will not have to pay towards the costs of your case if you are under 18 when you make your application or if you receive any of the following benefits: income support, income-based jobseekers allowance, guaranteed state pension credit or income related employment and support allowance.

You may have to pay towards the costs if your monthly disposable income is above a certain level. If this is the case, you will receive a Contribution Order from the court and you will have to make payments as required under the order. The first payment will be due within 28 days of your case being committed, sent or transferred to the Crown Court.

You must tell the court about any changes to your financial circumstances during your case because a change may affect the amount you have to pay towards your defence costs. If you do not think you can afford to pay, or you think a mistake has been made, you can ask for a review of the amount that the court has told you to pay. If you do this you will have to provide additional evidence of your financial position.

At the end of the case if you are found not guilty, any payments you have made will be refunded to you with interest. If you paid late or not at all and action was take against you, the cost of this action will be deducted from the refund.

If you are found guilty, you may have to pay towards your defence costs from any capital assests you have. You will be told at the end of your case if you have to make a payment from capital.

Capital Contribution Orders

A Capital Contribution Order (CCO) is an order to make over a lump sum payment to contribute towards the cost of your legal representation fees in criminal proceedings if you are unsuccessful in defending the prosecution.

An Interest Contribution Order is an order to make over some of your income.

CCO’s are recovered by debt collectors often posing as ‘bailiffs’, but the regulations (Regulation 19 of the Criminal Defence (Contribution Orders) Regulations 2009) do not (as yet) provide for levying on goods, breaking into homes or charging you fees.  For more information see here.

As part of a Capital Contribution Order the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) can ask you to agree to pay all your legal fees if you are found guilty at court. Fees would have to be paid from any capital you have and your family home will be taken into consideration.

If you don’t have immediate access to monies to pay the legal fees, the LAA could take out a charge on your home. This means that when you come to sell, your debt to the LAA will be paid directly to them from the proceeds of the sale.

A recent Freedom of Information request based on criminal cases since 2013 found:

table 1

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

  • Citizens Advice Bureau – The CAB can provide practical information on a wide range of issues including benefit and debt issues

More information

  1. For practical information – More information can be found in our financial issues section
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum

This page was last fully reviewed and updated in March 2017. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to

Community order

This is part of our information section on understanding your criminal record.


Who is it issued by and how can I contact them?

Issued by the court – contact the relevant court.

Does it involve guilt?


Is it recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC)?


Is it classed as a conviction?


How long will it be on my record?

It will remain on the PNC indefinitely and can still be mentioned in future criminal proceedings even after it has become spent.

When does it become spent?

At the end of the order.

When do I have to declare it?

You do not have to declare it after it is spent except for an occupation exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, like working with children. Before it is spent you do need to declare it, when asked, to employers, insurers and others.

Is it disclosed on DBS checks?

Yes, it be disclosed on both standard and enhanced checks unless it is eligible for filtering. Once it becomes spent, it won’t be disclosed on a basic check.

What guidance is there on fair process?

The Sentencing Council provide guidelines on community sentences to try and ensure uniformity in sentencing.

Do I have the right to appeal and what is the process?

All appeals about the handling of your case by Probation, should be made to the relevant National Probation Service office. If you are still not satisfied your complaint has been dealt with, contact the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman who have a legal responsibility to investigate all complaints.

What are the implications for life in the community?

A community sentence is managed by the probation service and can involve a range of requirements and programmes. Breaking the terms of your order can result in a return to court or prison.

What can it include?

Community orders, sometimes referred to as community sentences, allow judges or magistrates to tailor a sentence. The sentence is served in the community under the supervision of a Probation Trust and should be considered a punishment, in that it may restrict your movements and activity, as well as encouraging attendence at activities or treatment-based interventions that are rehabilitative in nature.

Sentencers can impose several different conditions, or ‘requirements’ on the order. There are a total of twelve different requirements although an offender would not have all the requirements attached to their order. Less serious offences would generally carry only one or two whereas a more serious offence may have three or more elements to the order.

The requirements are as follows:

Supervision – by a Probation Trust. This is where you’ll have to attend regular meetings with a probation officer who will undertake work with you to change attitudes and behaviour.

Unpaid Work/Community Payback – up to a maximum of 300 hours set work performed for the benefit of the community.

Curfew –where you can be ordered to stay within the confines of your home during certain hours of the day for up to six months. The curfew can be for up to 12 hours within a 24 hour period. Curfews are usually electronically monitored.

Accredited Programmes – designed to address behavioural issues such as general offending, violence, sex offending, drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence and drink impaired driving. May be group based or one-to-one.

Specified Activities – for example improving basic skills, or undertaking reparative work.

Prohibition – from undertaking certain activities. For example attending football matches, public houses or shopping centres.

Exclusion – where you can be excluded from entering certain areas for up to two years.

Residence – where you have to live at a certain address for example approved premises such as a hostel or a private address.

Mental Health Treatment – this can only be imposed with your consent and is done under the direction of a doctor or psychologist.

Drug Rehabilitation – this includes testing and treatment and can also only be imposed with your consent. This is designed to reduce or eliminate your dependency on drugs.

Attendance Centre – where you (up to the age of 25) are required to attend a particular centre at a certain time for between 12 – 36 hours during your sentence.

Alcohol Treatment – this can only be imposed with your consent and lasts up to three years. This is designed to reduce or eliminate your dependency on alcohol.

These requirements are also available to the courts when a suspended sentence is imposed.

Going to court

This is for information only.  We are unable to provide advice on this.  For reasons why, click here.


Going to court, particularly for the first time, can be a rather daunting experience. There is a number of useful resources linked to below that you should take a look at if you want to know more about going to court.

Useful resources

Film by Raising Your Game – ‘Getting ready for court’

The film below has been produced by the Raising Your Game project, which is led by Mencap.

Character references for sentencing

There is little in the way of official protocol surrounding providing character references. However, it has proven to be useful in cases in the past. You should speak to your solicitor about whether they think they would help. You will probably be required to arrange the references yourself, but given they could help your case this is something you should seriously consider.

Much will depend on how your case is dealt with on the day. For example, your solicitor may not get the chance to get the references in front of the judge, your judge may be changed at last minute, or they may simply not want to consider such references. However, all you can do is try.

References should be in writing from people who have known you for some time and who can comment on you from an impartial perspective if possible. If they know about your offence, this could be useful as they can discuss this in the reference that they write. A suggested template is provided below.

These letters should be provided to your solicitor at least a couple of days before you appear in court for sentencing (you may want to take copies first to keep for your own records).



To Whom It May Concern

I have known [FULL NAME] as a Colleague/Employee/Family/Friend for X years. During that time, I have always known him/her to be honest, sincere, dependable and a good family person [use suitable wording according to the individual circumstances[. I have never known [NAME] to be anything other than a person of integrity and to find himself/herself in this current situation is completely out of character. [Insert some brief specific details about the offence if known].

I am a (provide here a description which demonstrates that the writer is of good standing, so perhaps ‘local businessman’, ‘Managing Director’, ‘Community Leader’ etc) and am writing this reference in support of [NAME] of my own free will and in the hope that the Court will take into account [NAME]’s previous good character.

Yours faithfully,

Signed [FULL NAME]

Friends and family at court

It can often be useful to have friends and family come with you to court when being sentenced. This not only provides you with moral support, but can also be an important indication to the judge of how much support you have. This can be a positive factor in sentencing.


Disclosure of previous convictions in court proceedings

If you’ve got previous convictions, you might wonder whether these will come up. Find out more here.

Education in prison

This is for information only.  We are unable to provide advice on this.


Making use of your time in prison is absolutely critical. Trying to get on in life with a criminal record is by no means easy, and so you have to try and make use of your time as effectively as possible whilst you are in prison.

This page will hopefully provide you with some useful information and advice on options available whilst in prison in terms of education.

Basic Skills

Education in prison is a mixture of specialist provision and mainstream provision.

All prisons will have an OLASS provider, who primarily provide basic key skills level 1 & 2. A list of the current providers for each region and each prison within that region, can be downloaded here.

Most prisons will also have selection of NVQ’s available. These may be operated by the specific OLASS provider, or may sit within a different area of the prison. You should speak to the prison about what specific courses and qualifications they have to offer.

Careers advice

The National Careers Service launched on 5th April 2012. It offers independent and impartial information and advice on learning and work.

The new service will include provision in the prison estate and replaces its predecessor, the Careers, Information and Advice Service (CIAS).

Visit or call 0800 100 900


Open University, Higher Education and Distance Learning

The processes surrounding Open University (OU), Higher Education and Distance Learning are set out in PSI 32/2012.

This covers areas such eligibility for programmes, funding, transfers (and leaving study) as well as internal matters such as risk management and maintaining records.

There is a useful guide by the Prisoners Education Trust (designed for prison and National Careers Service staff but equally as useful for individuals directly) on Distance Learning. You can download it here.

If you are interested in studying with The Open University, ask your Education Department for a prospectus – the OU offer general and subject specific prospectuses – or you can look at the leaflet Courses for Prisoners. The OU have a specific prospectus/guide for learners in prison. The 2016/2017 version is available on their website. The ‘Offender Learning’ section more broadly contains some useful information.

Many prisons host information and advice sessions where prospective students can view course materials and prospectuses. It may also be possible to speak to an OU adviser about your future study plans. If you are new to university study you may wish to study one of the preparatory Openings courses. These courses are designed to introduce new students to study, or to act as a refresher for those who have not studied for some time. Once you have decided on an area of interest, your Education Department will advise you about the suitability and availability of courses in that area and help you complete the necessary paperwork. All study must be approved by your Prison Governor and you will be advised on your application by Education Department.

Funding your studies

If you are a new student you may be able to get funding from the Prisoners’ Education Trust or from another charity. Please note: Unlock are not able to provide financial assistance. It may also be possible for you or a third party to pay your course fees via the prison. Please discuss this with your Education Department if you would like to explore this option.

For further advice and information (including course start dates), please speak to a member of your prison’s Education Department.

Useful Organisations

Prisoners Education Trust provides access to broader learning opportunities for prisoners, to enhance their chances of building a better life after release. They do this through a grants programme which assists over 2,000 prisoners each year to study distance learning courses in subjects and levels not available in prison. They also provide advice and support, and they make the case for improving policy and practice.

Haven Distribution has been assisting prisoners since 1996 by purchasing educational books for those who wish to use their time in custody effectively, through the pursuit of lifelong learning.

Open University delivers higher education courses to people in prison.

Learning and Work Institute encourage all adults to engage in learning of all kinds.

Getting copies of court transcripts

To some people’s surprise, not all court proceedings are recorded and/or transcribed. For example, no formal records of Magistrate Court hearings are kept. Obviously, the outcome of these hearings are detailed, but the actual proceedings cannot be replicated as they are recorded.

The original material (the shorthand notes, tape recordings, etc.) of any Crown Court trial belong to Ministry of Justice (MOJ). It is created and held by one of several Court Transcribing firms who are contracted by the MOJ.

You are entitled to apply to the reporting firm for a transcript (for which the reporting firm makes a commercial charge) provided you have obtained permission from the court concerned. The copyright in all transcripts remains with the Crown. The Crown gives blanket permission for copying and distribution of transcripts for any legitimate criminal justice function and/or for access to personal data.

If you wish to obtain a copy of a court case where you were the defendant, you should speak to the court concerned for details of how to go about this. Each court will be linked to a company that is responsible for transcribing at that court.

Please note: It is not possible to get a transcript of a hearing if the record of the hearing is no longer stored. Generally, records are only held for 5 years.

If you have previously had your case referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, they may be able to provide you with a copy of your court transcripts. You can view their policy in CCRC – Court Transcripts Formal Memorandum.


Victim surcharge

Since October 2012, a new system of imposing a victim surcharge has been in force. The previous regime involved a £15 surcharge on all convicted individuals where a financial penalty was imposed.

The new regime will see the surcharge levied on all those convicted in the courts of any criminal offence. The sums involved will depend on the sentence imposed and so the surcharge is not related to the type of offence committed, the harm caused, the loss suffered by the victim or, crucially, the means of the individual to pay. The surcharge is separate and distinct from any costs or compensation awarded. Judges will have no discretion as to whether they imposed it or not.

The amounts (for those over 18) are as follows:

Offender aged 18 or over at date of the offenceOne Or more offences committed before 8th April 2016All offence(s) committed on or after 8th April 2016
A Conditional discharge£15£20
A fine10% of the fine value with a £20 minimum and a £120 maximum (surcharge should be rounded up or down to the nearest pound)10% of the fine value with a £30 minimum and a £170 maximum (surcharge should be rounded up or down to the nearest pound)
A community sentence£60£85
An immediate custodial sentence *6 months and below – £80
Over 6 months and up to and including 2 years – £100
Over 2 years – £120 (only in Crown Court)
6 months and below – £115
Over 6 months and up to and including 2 years – £140
Over 2 years – £170 (only in Crown Court
A suspended sentence 6 months and below – £80
Over 6 months – £100
6 months and below – £115
Over 6 months – £140

*When sentencing in magistrates’ courts to immediate custody for a single offence committed before 1 September 2014 or more than one offence at least one of which was committed before 1 September 2014, no surcharge is payable.

The Ministry of Justice has published a circular which introduces in more detail the Victim Surcharge. This is available to download here.

Understanding your licence conditions


Often, with hindsight, people released from prison say that they thought prison would be the hard bit, when in fact it was after prison that they really started encountering problems.

Being released from prison can be a daunting experience. Being released on licence can be even worse.

Given the way that the current legislative/sentencing regime operates, most people being released from prison are released in advance of the point that they were sentenced to serve by the judicial system. This means that there is a large number of people being released from prison “on licence”.

For additional information about supervision in the community after release from prison see here.

We are unable to provide specific legal advice around your own situation, i.e. when your licence should end, when you can be recalled, how you can be recalled, etc.

Licence conditions

If you were sentenced to more than 12 months in prison,but less than four years, you may be released early on licence.

You will also have a licence if you’re out of prison on a home detention curfew (on a tag). Being on licence means that you are still serving a prison sentence but you can live in the community instead of being in prison. Whilst you are on licence, there are rules you must follow. How long these rules apply for depends on the length of your sentence. If you break the rules, you’ll have to go back to prison (be recalled).

Who determines standard determinate sentence licence conditions?

The Parole Board is no longer involved in imposing licence conditions. Governors now have responsibility for including any additional conditions though these must be from the approved list and recommended by Probation. If Probation want to add a condition not listed or a governor is concerned about the need for additional conditions they must seek advice from the Public Protection Unit. The licence is prepared by Custody/Discipline office and should be explained to you at least one week before release.

What if I refuse to sign the licence?

The licence remains lawful irrespective of whether you sign it. If you refuse to sign it, the governor will sign to confirm the conditions have been read out and explained. A copy is given to you on release and further copies are kept on your records at the prison and sent to the police.

How can I challenge my licence conditions?

A complaint about the necessity or proportionality of additional licence conditions imposed can be considered by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. You will first have to complain internally through Prison/Probation.

Are life licence conditions different?

Life sentence conditions are set by the Parole Board but are very similar to the standard conditions. Additional conditions can also be imposed and again are likely to be similar to those on standard determinate sentences.

As a lifer, will I be on licence for ever?

Although the life licence remains in force and you are liable to recall for the rest of your life, you can apply to the Secretary of State (via request to Probation) and request that, as the conditions are no longer necessary, they are cancelled. The supervision or reporting restrictions normally remain in force for around 4 years, though this can be up to 10 years for people convicted of sexual offences, and can remain in force for longer or shorter periods depending on your own case. The Secretary of State will normally refer the case to the Parole Board before cancelling the supervision requirements. Even where there are no longer any supervision requirements you can be recalled for committing other offences etc

Useful resources

Licences and licence conditions (Prison Service Instruction 12/2015) – This explains the various conditions that can be attached to a licence.

Standard conditions of licence

The Criminal Justice (Sentencing) (Licence Conditions) Order 2005 (Statutory Instrument 2005 No. 648) below sets out the standards conditions. An explanatory note for the SI is also available.

(1) The conditions set out in paragraph (2) are the standard conditions prescribed for the purposes of section 250 (1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

(2) The prisoner must-

(a) keep in touch with the responsible officer as instructed by him;

(b) receive visits from the responsible officer as instructed by him;

(c) permanently reside at an address approved by the responsible officer and obtain the prior permission of the responsible officer for any stay of one or more nights at a different address;

(d) undertake work (including voluntary work) only with the approval of the responsible officer and obtain his prior approval in relation to any change in the nature of that work;

(e) not travel outside the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man without the prior permission of the responsible officer, except where he is deported or removed from the United Kingdom in accordance with the Immigration Act 1971 or the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 [See Article 3 Explanatory note];

(f) be of good behaviour, and not behave in a way which undermines the purposes of the release on licence, which are to protect the public, prevent re-offending and promote successful re-integration into the community;

(g) not commit any offence.

As well as these standard rules, your probation officer might have recommended extra conditions, like not making contact with certain people or not living at the same address as children. Your licence will say what the extra conditions are. If you have to miss an appointment with your probation officer, it’s important to be able to show them proof of the reason. For example, if you are ill, get a doctor’s note. Examples of conditions are listed below:

(1) Conditions of a kind set out in paragraph (2) are prescribed for the purposes of section 250(2)(b)(ii) and (4) (b) (ii) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

(2) The conditions are those which impose on a prisoner:

(a) a requirement that he reside at a certain place;

(b) a requirement relating to his making or maintaining contact with a person;

(c) a restriction relating to his making or maintaining contact with a person;

(d) a restriction on his participation in, or undertaking of, an activity;

(e) a requirement that he participate in, or co-operate with, a programme or set of activities designed to further one or more of the purposes referred to in section 250(8) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003;

(f) a requirement that he comply with a curfew arrangement;

(g) a restriction on his freedom of movement (which is not a requirement referred to in sub-paragraph (f));

(h) a requirement relating to his supervision in the community by a responsible officer.

(3) For the purpose of this article, “curfew arrangement” means an arrangement under which a prisoner is required to remain at a specified place for a specified period of time which is not an arrangement contained in a condition imposed by virtue of section 37A(1) [See Article 3 Explanatory note] of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 Act or section 250(5) of the Act.

You can apply to your probation officer to change your conditions. For example, if a curfew would mean that you can’t take up a suitable job, the hours of your curfew could be changed.

Supervision and support whilst on licence

You should be allocated a supervising probation officer who will supervise you on release. The supervising officer must ensure that a first appointment is arranged for the day of release (or next working day).

It is stated in PSO 4700 that the supervising probation officer has to ensure that arrangements are made for weekly contact for the first four weeks following release. In addition one contact has to be a visit to the home address within 10 days of release. Contact should comprise a minimum of fortnightly for the second and third months following release and thereafter monthly.


You won’t be considered for early release until you have a suitable address. This could be with friends or family or at a hostel. You might get help from the council to pay for your accommodation. You aren’t allowed to move without permission from your probation officer.


You aren’t allowed to take a job unless your probation officer approves of it. There are rules about declaring your criminal record when you apply for a job. For some jobs, such as working with children, disabled people or other vulnerable people, you’ll always have to declare all your criminal convictions.

It is stated in the Lifer Manual that the supervising probation officer must consider advising certain third parties of the nature of the offence and implications of the supervision process including conditions. In the case of partners, employers, educational providers and accommodation suppliers the presumption is in favour of disclosure. The preferred approach is for the licensee to disclose this information themselves.


There is a presumption in favour of disclosure by probation to partners of the licensee.


The prison isn’t responsible for your healthcare if you’re serving your sentence in the community. Unless getting treatment is one of your conditions, it’s up to you to get any healthcare you need. When you leave prison, it’s a good idea to register with a GP.

Travelling abroad whilst on licence

You have to get permission to travel abroad, and all people on licence face restrictions on travelling abroad whilst on licence supervision in the community. We have put together some information for people in this situation within our section on travel abroad.

If you break the rules – Recall

You can be sent back to prison if you break the rules.

First of all, your probation officer will look at your case. They might give you a warning or they might decide you should go back to prison. If they think you should go back to prison, they’ll ask the Ministry of Justice to order you to return to prison. This decision can be taken very quickly – in emergency cases, the decision can be taken within two hours. You’ll be arrested and taken straight to prison. This would usually be your local prison, not necessarily the one you were released from.

If you committed another criminal offence while you were out on licence, you’ll go to court for that offence. If you’re found guilty, the new sentence will be added on to your old sentence.

If you’re sent back to prison for breaking your conditions, you should get legal advice as soon as possible. You might get Legal Aid.

A licence can be revoked at any time and the licensee recalled to prison by the Secretary of State on the recommendation of the parole board. If the licence is revoked, the licensee is immediately recalled to prison to continue her life sentence. The licensee must be informed of the reasons for the revocation of the licence and has the right to make representations to the Parole Board in an oral hearing.

In deciding whether to recommend the recall of a lifer the Parole Board should consider:

  1. whether the licensee’s continued liberty would present a risk to the safety of the public and if the licensee is likely to commit further imprisonable offences;
  2. the extent to which the licensee has failed to comply with the conditions of the life licence and otherwise failed to cooperate with the supervising officer;
  3. whether the licensee is likely to comply with the conditions of the licence and supervision if allowed to remain in the community.

The Parole Board take account of the supervising officer’s recommendation as to whether the licensee should remain on licence.

Problems if you’re sent back to prison

You may have problems if you’re sent back to prison, for example:

  • there’s a delay before the prison gets information about you
  • you don’t how long you’ll have to stay in prison. However, you should be given an information pack explaining how to appeal to the Parole Board
  • if you’re not sent back to the same prison, you may not know how the prison works. However any differences between the prison where you used to be and your current prison should be explained to you
  • you may lose your right to Housing Benefit after 13 weeks of being back in prison.

If you aren’t sure why you’ve been taken back to prison or if you have any other problems, get specialist advice.

Other information

In order for the conditions to be lawful they must be both necessary and proportionate to the needs of protecting the public and preventing  re-offending. Necessary means that no other means of managing a particular risk is available or appropriate; and proportionate means that the restriction on the offender’s liberty is the minimum required to manage the risk.

Licence conditions are not designed to be punitive, and are designed for risk management and public protection purposes, see R (on the Application of Carman) -v- Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] EWHC 2400 (Admin). Further, they are subject to the scrutiny of the Administrative Court by way of Judicial Review due to the principles of reasonableness, necessity and proportionality.

Further, they may infringe an offender’s Human Rights and the most typical is their right to a private and family life pursuant to Article 8 (1) ECHR. The State is entitled to interfere with Article 8 rights in accordance with Article 8(2), so long as it is in pursuance of legitimate aims, but only if reasonable and proportionate to those aims.

Thus, providing the proposed conditions correspond with a legitimate purpose, any corresponding interference with the Claimant’s Article 8 rights will be justified so long as that interference is reasonable and proportionate to the stated Purpose. Once again these issues can be resolved in the Administrative Court. If an offender breaches the terms of their licence, they render themselves liable to be returned to prison and will not be released unless the Parole Board directs it. The power to recall lies with Probation Service therefore it is essential that the conditions in place are necessary, proportionate to manage risk.


Disclosure of previous convictions in court proceedings


The law of disclosure in criminal proceedings applies to all prosecutions, including private prosecutions.

Under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996, previous convictions of prosecution witnesses must be disclosed to the defence if they satisfy the test of being reasonably capable of undermining the case for the prosecution against the accused, or assisting the case for the accused.

CPS guidance on private prosecutions makes it clear that the Crown Court may grant a private prosecutor a witness summons to obtain material from the police to enable the prosecutor to comply with the disclosure obligation to the defence. Detailed guidance on this is linked to below.

Crown Prosecution Service Guidance (2007) – Disclosure of previous convictions of prosecution witnesses

Crown Prosecution Service Guidance (2009) – Private prosecutions

As a defendant

During the trial of a criminal charge, reference to previous convictions (and therefore to spent convictions) can arise in a number of ways. The most common is when a bad character application is made under the Criminal Justice Act 2003.  Much of this depends on whether you make a point as part of your case about your character – i.e. if you state you are of good character, the other side would be entitled to adduce evidence of your bad character in the form of your previous convictions.  When considering bad character applications under the 2003 Act, regard should always be had to the general principles of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

The court must be provided with a statement of the defendant’s record for the purposes of sentence. The record supplied should contain all previous convictions, but those which are spent should, so far as practicable, be marked as such. No one should refer in open court to a spent conviction without the authority of the judge, which authority should not be given unless the interests of justice so require. When passing sentence the judge should make no reference to a spent conviction unless it is necessary to do so for the purpose of explaining the sentence to be passed

If you are due to appear in court as a defendant in a trial, you should speak to your solicitor about whether they think that the proceedings will bring up your previous convictions. They are in the best position to advise in relation to your specific case.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that court proceedings are exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders, and can therefore disclose spent convictions (subject to above).

As a witness

If a case goes to court some witnesses face an even greater challenge of being cross examined by the defence about their past behaviour which is totally separate from the case being heard.

This “bad character” evidence usually covers earlier criminal convictions, but it is widely defined and can even extend to a poor disciplinary record at work or at school. It is used to show that a witness is not credible and that something in their past suggests that they should not be believed. This could include where they have made false allegations similar to the allegations they are making in the trial.

Before the 2003 Criminal Justice Act there were too many witnesses who were having their character assassinated and their past dragged up with minimal relevance to the case. The Act improved the way bad character evidence is admitted in court ushering in a completely new statutory scheme designed to toughen the previous rules.

Despite this tightening up, witnesses still aren’t always being told that they might be quizzed about their past. Some people are taking the stand without the prosecution telling them that they will be forced to admit episodes from their past before a public audience. Not only can this be extremely traumatic with no prior warning, but it may even mean family members, neighbours or employers hearing about witnesses’ past mistakes without them having the chance to explain first.

If you are due to appear in court as a witness, you should speak to the legal team you are acting as a witness for. We would suggest that you be honest and open about your criminal record, including disclosing any spent convictions that you have. This will help them to advise whether this might come up as part of the process, and what the next steps would be.

For further information on this, see:

Crown Prosecution Service Guidance (2007) – Disclosure of previous convictions of prosecution witnesses


Getting property back from the police

This page is for information only. We are unable to provide advice on this. For reasons why, click here.

Aim of this information

This information sets out the general procedure for getting property back from the Police. For more detailed information of the process of a specific Police Force, you should contact either the Police Headquarters for that area or the station where you were arrested.

Why is this important

There are many people who have their property taken away from them when they are arrested by the Police. People often think that they will never be able to get that property back and this information looks at how they may be able to.

How property is retained by the Police

When arrested and/or subject to a police investigation, you may have property confiscated from you which is then held by the police on your behalf.

When the Police investigate criminal offences, they are give wide ranging powers to seize property they believe is relevant to the investigation. This is principally done under s.19 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE 84).

General power of seizure etc.
(1)The powers conferred by subsections (2), (3) and (4) below are exercisable by a constable who is lawfully on any premises.
(2)The constable may seize anything which is on the premises if he has reasonable grounds for believing—
(a)that it has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence; and
(b)that it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent it being concealed, lost, damaged, altered or destroyed.
(3)The constable may seize anything which is on the premises if he has reasonable grounds for believing—
(a)that it is evidence in relation to an offence which he is investigating or any other offence; and
(b)that it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent the evidence being concealed, lost, altered or destroyed.
In simple terms, if the Officer believes that something is relevant to the investigation then he will no doubt seize it. If you are charged with an offence a decision will then be made as to whether that item becomes a ‘Used’ exhibit or an ‘unused’ exhibit. If it is ‘used’ then it means the Prosecution will rely on it at trial in your case. If ‘unused’ then the Prosecution are not relying on it as evidence in the case.

Basically, if the officer thinks that something is relevant to the investigation, then he will seize it.

Getting this property back, either whilst you are in custody or once the proceedings that relate to why the property was confiscated have taken place, can be difficult.

If your property is confiscated it is usually held at the holding/arresting police station until the matter has been dealt with. Once the officer in charge of the case feels that your property is no longer needed, an officer should inform you that your property is ready for collection.

There are two types of property that may be taken from you when you are arrested

  1. The property in your possession when arrested (e.g. coins, watch, lighter, wallet) – any property which is not believed to be of evidential value (and is not an illegal item or substance). This should be returned to you when you leave custody.
  2. Property you own which is of interest to the investigation (e.g. a computer, a large sum of cash, trainers or kitchen knives). This will be retained until the investigation/process is complete.

Getting your property back

If you have had property seized by the police (other than money or cash) then there naturally becomes a point when that property is no longer required under PACE 1984. You won’t necessarily be able to recover all your property (e.g. drugs, knives, guns etc) – some will be forfeited and destroyed.

If you had money or cash seized, the rules and regulations are incredibly complicated, and you are probably best speaking to a solicitor about what to do.

Although the policy of returning property may vary depending on the police force, there is a general process that the Police will use. This usually involves you being notified by them, often in writing, stating that your property can be collected and where you need to go for it.

However, there are some points that you need to know before getting your property back:-

  • The property cannot be returned to you until the officer in charge of the case has authorised it for release.
  • The police can keep relevant property until a case has been resolved and in some cases they can keep it after conviction (in case of a hearing relating to the confiscation of any illegal assets, or a possible appeal in some circumstances).
  • The police will hold your property until all relevant matters have been dealt with. Once the letter of authorisation has been sent to you the general procedure is for them to wait 28 days for you to collect your property or for a response either by telephone or in writing.

If you want to make some enquiries as to whether you can collect your property, you will need to speak to the officer in charge of the case.

If you have been notified to collect your property and fail to do so then after a certain amount of time (often 28 days, but may vary from force to force), the property will be disposed of, either destroyed or sold at auction.

If the Police are disputing your ownership of the property in question, then you may have to prove it is yours. Whilst this can easily be done if you have receipts, if you haven’t got these then you have have to think more creatively – perhaps you have photographs of you with the property.

If the Police still will not return your belongings then you may need to contact a Solicitor or a Barrister. They should be able to give you initial advice as to whether or not you can, in law, recover your property and what steps you will need to take. You may need to bring an action under the Police Property Act 1897 to ask the Magistrates’ Court to compel the Police to return your belongings.

If you are not charged

If you are not charged but the police are still investigating the case, property is dealt with in the same was as if you were charged and released, when the officer in charge authorises it.

If you are not charged, but you have a Co-defendant/s and some of your property is needed for their case it will continue to be held until the case is closed and the officer in charge authorises it for release.

After you are convicted/sentenced

After you have been convicted/ sentenced, once the case has been closed with no outstanding issues you should be given all items which were on your person at the station at the court or be told to attend the station to collect your property.

If you are in prison

If while in custody your property is no longer needed by the Police you should be sent a letter of notification listing what property is being released. This letter can either be sent to the prison or your address at the time of arrest.

When you are sentenced, the Home Office should be told of the outcome and if detained which prison you have been sent to.

This property should be forwarded onto the prison where you are currently being held. The Home Office will usually cover the postage costs.

For items that are too large to post (e.g. car, computer, house), the item/s will remain at the station or holding centre until your released. This is so long as you make contact with the police force in charge and there is no other option for collection. You should try to make it clear when you will be in a position to collect your property.

In custody, you will not be able to collect your property from the station yourself. With this in mind, the police should allow you to use alternative options.

  1. You can write a letter to the station addressed to the officer in charge stating who you are giving permission to collect your property. You must also write a letter to the person collecting the property, giving them permission, and they must bring this letter and some form of ID with them when they go to collect your property.
  2. You can have the property posted to an address different to the prison so long as you inform them of this within a set time frame (usually 28 days). This may vary from force to force.

Some police forces will hold the property in the arresting station until it is claimed. However, it is worth noting that they will likely have a process of disposal after a certain amount of time. Most police stations in London will hold property for around 6 months, after which it will be moved to a main property holding centre within the arresting borough. Addresses for the holding centres are only available directly from local stations.

Contact numbers and addresses for each Police force are available from their website. You can get details of the various forces from the here.

Do not know the officer in charge of your case?

If you do not know the details of the officer in charge you will need to provide the relevant Police force with as much information as possible about your case.

The following information would be useful:-

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Date arrested
  • Reason for arrest/charges
  • Station detained in


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