Retention Of The Mandatory Life Sentence For Murder

2775 words - 12 pages

Murder can only be described as the most harmful and offensive of all crimes. It seemed for centuries both "just" and "fair" to punish murderers with the retributive sentence to death. However throughout the years the penalty of death has proven "unpopular" and "not necessary". Until the Homicide Act 1957 all persons convicted of murder were automatically sentenced to death. By s5 of that Act, certain types of murder were singled out and designated "capital murder". These continued to be punishable by death, whilst the remaining types of murder were punishable by imprisonment for life. In effect having two degrees of murder. The distinction between "capital murder" and "non-capital murder" ...view middle of the document...

The implementation and administration of the mandatory life sentence gave rise to problems and severe criticisms. There are many arguments, opinions and points of view for this controversial area, this essay will focus on three main arguments in the area of politics, the judiciary and the social involvement of citizens, also highlighting areas where change is needed and making recommendations for the Criminal Justice system.In all other cases apart from murder the judge has "powers" to sentence to fit the crime. Although these can be somewhat limited by way of "doctrine of precedent", the judge can use his discretion when sentencing a criminal. The mandatory life sentence takes away this discretion and the judge can only set a "tariff" of how long the criminal must serve before being considered for parole. This is where the role of politics comes into play. The (then) Home Secretary, Michael Howard introduced the "public acceptability clause" (Cullen and Newell 1999:p23), enabling the Home Secretary to have a final say on which criminals should be released. This happened in the case of Myra Hindley (2002). The Home Secretary (and previous Home Secretaries) would not consider her for parole, due to the fear of losing votes at election time. Public voice and participation is seen as a key factor in the changes made in the Criminal Justice policies and practises. Public voice represents citizenship, which turns to empowerment, reflecting the public as consumers of public services (James Anne 1998:p65). Law Lords ruled in 2002, that to allow a politician (who has no training in law) rather than judges to decide sentences is a breach of the Human Rights Act (2000) (Clare Dyer 2002, The Guardian). The argument is clear, by abolishing the mandatory life sentence; this could take the politics out of sentencing practise and place the decisions firmly in the courts.The changes in society have to be taken into consideration when making decisions regarding the mandatory life sentence. Criminal Justice policies like all social policy are liable to change, and when change comes it appears to be radical and surprising (Faulkener 1996 in Anne James 1988:p87). A key issue is if the mandatory life sentence were abolished, modern sentencing would need to be put into practise. For example, with cases such as Tony Martin and Sarah Thornton, found guilty of murder (and many more not so high profile cases, too many to mention), the judge, when found guilty by the jury, has to sentence them to life imprisonment. This can be seen as a weakness of the mandatory sentence, which seems to classify all murders into one category, and this is argued by some to be legally and morally unfair. The sadistic sexual murderer of Sarah Payne (a defenceless child) has had the exact same sentence of life imprisonment, of that of Sarah Thornton, who killed her violent, and abusive husband. While being careful to distinguish, all murders are horrific, but the elements and circumstances...

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