The Court of Appeal recently provided guidance as to when a whole life tariff should be imposed, meaning there is no prospect of the prisoner being released, aside from exceptional circumstances.
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Life sentences and tariffs
Even when a life sentence is handed out, that does not necessarily mean that the person will remain in custody until their dying day. Instead, when a life sentence is imposed, a tariff is attached to it. This is the minimum amount of time that a person must spend in custody until being considered for parole and release. Only occasionally will a court order a whole life tariff, meaning that a person will never be released, save for exceptional circumstances such as compassionate release.
Life tariffs in sex offence cases
Questions have been raised as to when a whole life tariff should be imposed. Only around 100 have been handed out since they were introduced in 1983. Until now, they have only been used in murder cases, including that of Rose West.
The Court of Appeal has provided guidance on the matter after considering the sentences in three separate sex offence cases. The first was that of Mr McCann who was convicted of abduction and serious sexual assault on victims aged between 13 and 71. The second was that of Mr Sinaga who was convicted of 136 offences of rape on intoxicated and drugged males. Both McCann and Sinaga were given a life sentence with a minimum term of 30 years. The third was that of Dr Shah, a GP who carried out the unnecessary breast, vaginal and rectal examinations of 24 female patients, including four patients under the age of 18. He received life imprisonment with a minimum term of 15 years.
Loss of life or plan to murder
The Court of Appeal was asked to consider whether the sentences in each case were unduly lenient, and by extension, whether a life tariff should be imposed.
The court clarified that there is an infinite number of circumstances which may attract a whole life tariff. This includes murder and planned murder, which may not actually occur due to an intervening event. An example would be a bomb on a commercial airline that fails to detonate. Life tariffs are reserved, therefore, for the most serious cases involving loss of life or when a substantive plan to murder is interrupted close to fulfilment.
The Court of Appeal, therefore, declined to impose a life tariff in any of the three cases. It said that while the cases were serious, they did not call for the most severe penalty available. However, it did agree that the minimum terms in the cases of McCann and Sinaga were too low. They were raised to 40 years. The minimum tariff for Shah was left at 15 years.
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