Dismay as Govt refuses to move on murder sentences

Criminal lawyers are disappointed by the Government's refusal to change the Home Secretary's powers of regulating life sentences.

In response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report on the mandatory life sentence for murder, the Government has rejected a recommendation the Home Secretary's role in setting the tariff and deciding release should be removed.

The Government argues that such a measure would reduce public confidence in the criminal justice system, signal that murder was no longer viewed as a uniquely heinous crime and prevent direct accountability to Parliament.

Home Secretary Michael Howard said: “Changes to the present arrangements could reduce the effectiveness of the punishment and diminish the distinctive nature of murder.”

But Roger Brice, honourary secretary of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, disagreed. “To vest in a politician, who has seen no witnesses, nor heard any evidence, the power to set a tariff and decide release dates cannot enhance the role of the criminal justice system, nor the public's confidence in it,” he said.

“There is the very real danger, highlighted recently, that the politician might succumb to the pressure of a vociferous element of public opinion or organised media campaign rather than applying well established principles.”