Life Sentences to Remain True to Their Name: British Government Initiates Review

Dartmoor Prison

Dartmoor Prison. Credit: Andrew Rabbott/Wikipedia

In a move aimed at reinforcing the gravity of life sentences, the British government announced plans on Saturday, August 26 to initiate a comprehensive review of the way these sentences are imposed.

The focal point of this initiative is the authority for judges to establish mandatory “whole life sentences” for individuals convicted of the most heinous forms of murder, thereby ensuring that they spend the entirety of their lives behind bars, reported Reuters.

This proposed change is designed to safeguard the public from the most dangerous criminals by establishing a legal obligation for judges to issue whole life sentences, except in exceedingly exceptional circumstances.

By updating this sentencing guideline in law, judges will also be able to hand down these orders with heightened confidence, knowing that they are shielded from potential challenges in the Courts of Appeal.

This reform introduces a significant alteration, making whole life orders the default sentence for cases, including sexually motivated murders.

This crucial step intends to address cases where the motivations behind the crime are driven by appalling circumstances.

As of June 30, the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, which provides sentencing guidelines, reported that there were only 65 prisoners subjected to whole-life orders. This illustrates the rarity of such sentencing.

Recent events have underscored the necessity of these changes.

The recent case of nurse Lucy Letby, who committed the act of murdering seven babies in a hospital, resulted in the imposition of a whole-life order, emphasising the gravity of her crimes.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed the motivation behind this initiative, stating, “By introducing mandatory whole life orders for individuals who commit the most appalling forms of murder, we will ensure that they never regain their freedom.”

This reform also revisits a historical practice.

From the 1980’s, the British home secretary held the authority to determine the duration of a life-sentence prisoner’s confinement before parole consideration.

However, this was successfully challenged in 2002 on the basis that the determination of punishment should be entrusted to an independent tribunal – a court – rather than a political figure.

Presently, a judge stipulates the minimum period an offender must serve in prison before becoming eligible to apply for parole under a life sentence.

In the event of release, the individual remains on parole for the remainder of their life, and any perceived risk to public safety could result in their return to prison.

Should all life sentences actually mean life?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.

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Written by

Jo Pugh

Jo Pugh is a journalist based in the Costa Blanca North. Originally from London, she has been involved in journalism and photography for 20 years. She has lived in Spain for 12 years, and is a dedicated and passionate writer.