Life sentence for murder, or time for judicial discretion?

The mandatory life sentence for murder: An argument for judicial discretion in England

From Criminology and Criminal Justice

In 1965, alongside the abolition of capital punishment, a mandatory life sentence for murder was implemented in England and Wales. This was a symbolic contract with the public that murders would continue to be taken seriously by the justice system. 50 years later, this article examines whether the imposition of the mandatory sentence is still in the best interests of justice or whether English homicide law would be better served by a discretionary sentencing system. The study relies upon interviews conducted with 29 members of the English judiciary, current practising legal counsel, and policy representatives. Findings indicate a dominant perception that the mandatory sentence should not apply to all cases of murder. Specifically, the analysis reveals that, despite political support for the continued imposition of a mandatory life sentence, those charged with the daily operation of the law of homicide predominantly advocate for a discretionary model of sentencing.  It is suggested such a change would be better able to respond to the range of circumstances within which the crime of murder is committed.

Abstract

In 1965, alongside the abolition of capital punishment, a mandatory life sentence for murder was implemented in England and Wales. The mandatory life sentence served as a signal to the public that the criminal justice system would still implement the most severe sanction of life imprisonment in cases of murder. Nearly 50 years later, this article examines whether the imposition of a mandatory life sentence for murder is still in the best interests of justice or whether English homicide law would be better served by a discretionary sentencing system. In doing so, the article considers debates surrounding the political and public need for a mandatory life sentence for murder by drawing upon interviews conducted with 29 members of the English criminal justice system. This research concludes that a discretionary sentencing framework is required to adequately respond to the many contexts within which the crime of murder is committed.

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Article details
Fitz-Gibbon, K. (2012). The mandatory life sentence for murder: An argument for judicial discretion in England Criminology and Criminal Justice DOI: 10.1177/1748895812458297

     
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