» Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Life Sentencing

Asked whether the Prime Minister was aware of what the 53 cases were, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that his understanding was these were cases that arose under the provisions of the 1997 Crime Sentences Act, which had been introduced by the previous administration, it legislated the concept of automatic life sentences for people who committed serious offences such as grievous bodily harm and sexual violence. Under that Act the court could set out a minimum tariff that had to be served for punishment. It was at the end of the tariff that the parole board could consider whether the individual concerned had to serve longer in order to protect the public. It was the parole board, not ministers or officials, which decided these cases. This government replaced the provisions of that act in the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, which widened considerably the range of offences, but most importantly it introduced the possibility of indeterminate sentences under which the parole board could judge that if an individual were still a serious threat to the public they would not be released. Therefore both the range of offences and the possible length of sentence had been considerably increased by this government. In response to the suggestion that the two strikes and your out legislation was 2000, the PMOS said that his understanding was that it was originally in the 1997 Crime Sentences Act.

Asked why judges were not taking up the indeterminate sentences provision, the PMOS said that his understanding was that since it came into effect in April 2005 that it had been taken up in a considerable number of cases. Journalists should check the precise figures with the Home Office.

Asked whether all 53 cases came under this category, the PMOS said that this was his understanding that the bulk did, but he would try to get a precise clarification. Asked whether the Prime Minister was concerned that the transparency of sentencing and breakdown was viewed negatively in the public, the PMOS said it was important, and had not always come across in the coverage, that people distinguished between the two parts of sentencing. First, was what the courts considered the minimum sentence necessary for punishment. This was the known as the tariff. The second was the parole board’s decision that judged the continuing threat to society. By making that a parole board decision it increased the transparency – not decreased it. It also clarified what each part of the sentence was. In terms of discounts, as he had said yesterday, the Attorney General had already announced that he wanted the consultation process to continue and a review on whether the one third discount should apply to people who were caught red handed or those who were serious offenders. There was already a sliding scale when people pleaded guilty.

The key question was how you did two things, one – how you gave courts sufficient discretion to fit the sentence to the crime, and two – how to make sure that the public were properly protected. This was the main concept behind the indeterminate sentence. Where there was a real continuing threat to the public they should stay in prison. In the past under previous legislation the individual was automatically released at the two-thirds point. This was no longer the case. Put that they could be paroled half way through, the PMOS said that in the past prisoners could be considered for automatic parole at the halfway point and then automatically released at the two-thirds point no matter what the view of the parole board was. It was now the case that if they were judged to be a continuing threat they could be held for an indeterminate sentence. That was a considerable tightening of the legislation.

Put that the reason for the discounts was the overcrowding of prisons, the PMOS said that if journalists looked at the figures the average sentence had increased considerably and the government was also creating new prisons. Asked whether the Prime Minster was as concerned, as David Blunkett had been, that judges were not making enough use of indeterminate sentences, the PMOS said that, as with all legislation, it was important that people made use of it. However, if they looked at the figures the number of indeterminate sentences was considerable in the short period since it had been available.

Briefing took place at 16:00 | Search for related news


  1. This act is unlawful and wrong.If the government wanted to change the types of offences that a person could be charged for and receive a life sentence for then they should of done it as soon as they came in to power.It is wrong for the people of this country to be told that two strikes and you are out and you then get a life sentence for life without killing any body this is a grave injustice.

    all they want to do is lock people up for life and curtail individual freedom without dealing with the real issues of crime and why people commit it lack of well paid jobs,racial discrimination etc

    Comment by geortge — 20 Jun 2006 on 1:55 pm | Link
  2. The above comments were fair I believe,freedom of speech was exercised properly.The PM must deal with the real issues of crime and stop passing more and more criminal justice bills.

    Comment by peter — 12 Jul 2006 on 2:33 pm | Link

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