Over 6,000 prisoners in England and Wales are serving open-ended sentences, which were introduced in April 2005 (under section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003) on the premise that rehabilitative treatment be available for these prisoners. Based on this treatment, release dates would be examined on a case-by-case basis by the Parole Board. However, in the recent judgement of James, Wells and Lee v. the United Kingdom, the deficiencies in the recently-abolished system were brought to light.
The case was originally brought by three British prisoners — Brett James, Nicholas Wells, and Jeffrey Lee — who claimed they had no realistic chance of accessing the rehabilitation courses that would qualify them for release. The three men had been convicted in 2005 for violent offences and had each been given indeterminate sentences. The trial judge had ordered that they serve, respectively, a minimum of two years, twelve months, and nine months. When these periods expired and they were still awaiting access to the relevant courses, the men claimed they were being unlawfully detained.