LONDON (Reuters) – The British government said on Saturday that judges will be required to impose mandatory “whole life orders” on killers who commit the most horrific types of murder, meaning they will die in prison, under planned legislation.
It said the change would protect the public from the most dangerous offenders by placing a legal expectation on judges to hand down the orders except in extremely limited circumstances.
Putting the sentencing guideline on a legal footing would also give judges greater confidence to hand down the orders without a risk of challenge in the Courts of Appeal.
For the first time, the orders will also be the default sentence for any sexually motivated murders, it said.
Whole-life orders are rare, with 65 prisoners subject to one as of June 30, according to the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, which issues guidelines on punishments.
Nurse Lucy Letby, Britain’s most prolific serial child killer of modern times who murdered seven babies in a hospital, was handed one on Monday.
“By bringing in mandatory whole life orders for the heinous criminals who commit the most horrific types of murder, we will make sure they never walk free,” said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
From the 1980s, Britain’s home secretary could decide how long a life-sentence prisoner would have to stay locked up before being considered for parole.
But that was successfully challenged in 2002 on the grounds that punishment should be decided by an independent tribunal – a court – and not a politician.
A judge currently specifies the minimum term an offender must spend in prison before becoming eligible to apply for parole when they pass a life sentence.
If released, the offender will remain on licence for the rest of their life and can be recalled to prison if they are ever thought to be a risk to the public.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Christina Fincher)