Criminal Law may go through the most radical reforms in almost twenty years


Under current criminal law, those under 21 cannot receive whole life orders for the crime of murder. Essentially, if a judge hands down this type of sentence, it means that the defendant will spend the rest of their life in prison. This differs from mandatory life sentences as a defendant will have to spend a minimum term in prison before being considered for parole.

In what is being describe by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland as the biggest and most “radical reform” in almost twenty years, the Government is set to publish a White Paper containing proposals to lower the minimum age for whole life orders. The proposed reforms will see the minimum age reduced from 21 down to 18, in exceptional circumstances, for terror related offences and for acts of murder against children.

However, these are not the only changes being proposed as tougher sentencing for younger age groups is set to be outlined in the White Paper. The reform in this section will see those aged between 15-17 have the minimum sentence for murder increased from 12 to 20 years. The Government is also set to introduce further changes such as, no automatic release for prisoners who have been radicalised behind bars (serving for non-terror related offences) and the ending of halfway release of offenders sentenced for crimes, such as rape, manslaughter and GBH with intent.

The reforms are in response to recent events, most notably the Manchester Arena bombing in which 23 were killed and over 800 injured. Ministers used this event as justification to toughen up sentences as the judges could not impose a whole life order on Hashem Abedi (20 at the time), even though he was found guilty of 22 counts of murder. Instead he received a mandatory life sentence with a minimum term of 55 years.

The idea of longer and tougher sentencing may well act as a deterrent and in turn lead to a reduction in crime. However, this does depend on whether Parliament votes to enact such a Bill (which will be introduced next year). It has also been a focal point for Government critics, such as the Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy who believes that prison reforms should be directed at rehabilitation as reoffending rates are at 64% (according to a Prison Reform Trust report).

This article is intended for guidance only and must not be relied upon for specific advice.