Owing to current fashion amongst lawyers and the establishment as to what human rights are, the Law Lords want take over the determination of gaol sentences from the Home Secretary in the UK. It is held that the Home Secretary responds to the demand of the public too much. It is well known that the public want the death penalty and that unduly long sentences has been given to the murders as a sop to public opinion since the House of Commons got rid of capital punishment in 1965. The new reform means that some 70 murderers will soon be let out with more than 200 getting reduced gaol sentences after 24 November 2002, but none immediately. David Blunkett immediately responded by saying that he would seek to change the law so that the most detested killers such as Harold Shipman, Ian Brady, Peter Sutcliffe and Rosemary West could continue to be gaoled for life. Hitherto, the trial judge would set a minimum term, which could be amended by the Lord Chief Justice, but the Home Secretary had the final say. But now, 2,000 murderers will be eligible to have their sentences reviewed by a judge and about 215 will have their sentences cut because the Home Secretary earlier increased the terms recommended by the judges as a sop to the public. How great are the chances that some of them may kill again?
Lord Bingham of Cornhill seems to think there needs to be a complete separation of powers here and that seems to be why he favours the latest move by the Law Lords. Historically, it has been thought to make government less arbitrary. But of late the Law Lords have thought it fine to attempt to throw out what they think is “bad law” from the Commons, and that is not quite the separation of powers they pay lip service to. It is rather the judiciary interfering with the executive. But Bingham feels it is too much the executive interfering with the judiciary & he feels the latest reform puts that right. Bingham said: “Far from being independent of the executive, the Home Secretary and his junior ministers are important members of it.” Blunkett, in response, was out to come up with principles to prevent soft sentencing. He said: “These principles will set out that for the most serious crimes such as the sexual, sadistic murder of children, life should mean life. The principles will be based on the same mitigating or aggravating factors. Aggravating factors will include murder committed in the course of armed robbery or the murder of prison or police officers in the course of their duty.”
Judges will need to make explicit their reasons in open court if they want to give short sentences. The Attorney General will also have power to appeal against minimum sentences if they are thought to be too lenient. But Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, has already reviewed the gaol terms imposed on all but 15 of 120 child-killers. His project is to undo the sop to the public that successive Home Secretaries have given to the public since 1965. The review of adult murderers will involve sorting cases into categories, with those whose terms were increased by the Home Secretary being heard first. Where the Home Secretary of the day has accepted the recommendation of the judiciary they could be dealt with on paper. The Law Lord’s ruling brings England and Wales into line with Scotland and Northern Ireland. It does not completely outlaw actual life sentences or the mandatory sentence of life for murder but it does seek to discourage them.
Many tend to think that lenient sentences are liberal, but pristine liberalism should not be one sided, nor favour the turn-the-other-cheek memes of Christianity. The judiciary seem to consider only the aggressor and forget the victim. But that is no way to maintain liberty but, e contra, it tends to encourage licence. Gaol is hardly a liberal solution as it taxes the public in addition to the crime: a double whammy. Fines and reimbursement are way better, but with murder that is out. The death penalty will have many critics amongst liberals, but it rules out re-offending by those who break out of gaol or by those who re-offend after serving the full sentence given to them. It carries the risk of executing the wrong man, but lives thus lost will be way less than those lost owing to being taken by the re-offenders from gaol.