Thank you for contacting me about sentencing for murder.
You are correct to say that the most serious offenders should spend more time in prison to match the severity of their crimes. The Prime Minister has been clear that the Government he leads will strengthen public confidence in the criminal justice system and I will support legislation designed to achieve this.
Murder is of course the most serious offence a person can commit. The law requires that a mandatory life sentence is imposed on anyone convicted of this crime. A life sentence remains in force for the rest of the offender’s life and release from prison, once the minimum term set by the sentencing judge has been served, is only possible if the Parole Board is satisfied that detention is no longer necessary for the protection of the public. It is important to consider that an offender serving a life sentence may never be released if the Parole Board considers they remain a danger to the public. It is also the case that if the Board does direct release it will be on life licence and subject to conditions. Therefore, the offender can be recalled to prison at any point if their risk to the public escalates. I believe this is important to consider in conjunction with the minimum period that must be served in prison before consideration of release.
The murder of Poppy Devey Waterhouse was horrific and extremely distressing. I am aware of concerns expressed that Poppy’s murderer may have received a significantly longer minimum term in prison if it had been judged that he had brought the murder weapon to the scene of the crime.
As you have mentioned, Schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, states that the sentencing starting point, in a case where the offender has taken a knife or other weapon to the scene of the crime with appropriate intent and has then used that knife or weapon in committing the murder is 25 years. Poppy Devey Waterhouse’s case was not covered by this part of the legislation as the knife was not taken to the scene but was, instead, already at the scene.
It is important to consider that the statutory aggravating factors in Schedule 21, such as the degree of planning and pre-meditation that want into a murder, must be taken into account when setting the appropriate tariff. Importantly, these will apply no-matter where the murder was committed. However, the Government has been clear that all sentencing legislation and guidance is kept under review to ensure they remain fit for purpose and are fair.
As you will be aware, the Government has proposed changes in the area of youth sentencing through the Sentencing White Paper. The purpose of the changes is to reduce the gap between the sentencing of older children and young adults. I welcome the plan to replace the current starting point of 12 years for murder committed by a child with a starting point of two-thirds the equivalent adult starting point for children aged 15-17 and half the equivalent adult starting point for children aged 10-14. After looking into this for you, these changes will mean that 15-17-year olds who commit particularly serious offences, such as murders involving sexual or sadistic conduct, will face a minimum term starting point of 20 years.
The murder of Ellie Gould was another horrific crime. I understand that the Ministry of Justice have spoken with the family as options are explored and new sentencing legislation is developed.
I welcome the Government Sentencing White Paper and am committed to scrutinising the final legislation when it is published.
Thank you again for contacting me.
Craig Whittaker MP