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Life sentences

February 2014

The UK is considering extending the life sentence on murder and serious offences, Prime Minister David Cameron has told the BBC.

In an interview at the beginning of January, Mr Cameron said ‘”Life” should mean life’ and the government was considering implementing 100-year sentences, such as the US hands down to certain offenders.

Although last year the European Court of Human Rights claimed that whole-life sentences breached the EU’s convention on human rights, the government is seeking alternatives to satisfy the various conditions, such as allowing sentence reviews.

It is understood that some MPs want the UK’s Supreme Court to have the final say in cases relating to human rights, rather than the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

The BBC reported Mr Cameron as saying, ‘There are some people who commit such dreadful crimes that they should be sent to prison. “Life” should mean life, and whatever the European Court has said we must put in place arrangements to make sure that can continue’.

However, campaigners have warned that the UK is simply trying to dodge complying with the Human Rights Act. Juliet Lyon, spokesman for the Prison Reform Trust, told the BBC, ‘It sounds like dangerous nonsense. It risks inflation in sentencing. People serving life sentences are serving three years longer than they did ten years ago’.

There are currently 52 criminals in England and Wales serving whole-life prison terms under the existing Criminal Justice Act 2003. The whole-life terms include exceptional offences, 30 years for the murder of a policeman on duty, and murders involving firearms or sadistic or sexual conduct.

People will receive a 25-year sentence if the offender took a weapon to the scene, with 15 years for all other offences.