Ronald Biggs has been released, then, Jack Straw having decided he could now be released on compassionate grounds, rather than on parole, which he earlier refused. Straw’s statement explains the new decision in terms of the different criteria he had to take account of in relation to the two issues.
The statement also makes clear Biggs has been released on licence. The power to release is under section 248 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, while the standard licence conditions are contained in the Criminal Justice (Sentencing)(Licence Conditions) Order 2005. Straw’s statement makes clear no further conditions have been imposed. It’s interesting to note that, although the standard conditions restrict his movements in the sense that he must reside at an address approved by the Probation Service (Norwich University Hospital, presumably) and can’t stay overnight anywhere else or travel outside the UK without permission, nothing in law prevents him leaving the hospital grounds for the day. Presumably his condition prevents him in practical terms from leaving his hospital bed. We’ll see.
So, Biggs tastes his last draught of freedom after all. I suppose if the only practical difference this makes is that prison guards leave Biggs’s bedside for his dying moments, then even I am reasonably content. It’s true Biggs is far from the Yorkshire Ripper category of offender, and I know some argue, like Nick Cohen, that Biggs has always been treated unfairly and that his escape and lack of remorse for it should not be held against him.
Still, my feeling is that for the law to be respected it must be inexorable: I’d have made Biggs repay every moment of his Latin American debt of time, even if (since he’s in a hospital, not in prison) only symbolically. Perhaps I’m the only one who’d have applauded Jack Straw had he taken that hard line.