Doughty’s Fitzgerald gives lifers new hope

Edward Fitzgerald QC takes lead role in case that strips Home Secretary of his power to set minimum jail terms for convicted murderers

Doughty Street Chambers’ well known human rights barrister Edward Fitzgerald QC has just won his second case this year challenging the powers of the Home Secretary.

The Lords has ruled that the Home Secretary is no longer entitled to fix the tariff of a mandatory life sentence for murder. Fitzgerald and Phillippa Kaufmann, also of Doughty Street Chambers, acted for the appellants in the case.

The judgement follows Fitzgerald’s successful challenge in the European Court of Human Rights to the Home Secretary’s power to decide when a mandatory life sentence prisoner should be released.

This week’s ruling in the Lords means that all tariffs must be made openly and fairly by the judiciary. The decision is based on Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which states that defendants have the right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal.

The decision also upholds the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.

The Home Secretary will have to amend the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 in order to remove the incompatibility with the ECHR.