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Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 10:06 GMT
Should life mean life?
The home secretary has been stripped of the power to set the minimum amount of time a murderer should serve, after the House of Lords ruled in favour of a convicted killer's case.

David Blunkett announced on Saturday that Roy Whiting - convicted of murdering eight-year-old Sarah Payne - should serve a 50-year minimum jail term.

However he has now lost this power to fix minimum terms, after seven law lords ruled in favour of a case brought by convicted killer Anthony Anderson.

Mr Anderson claimed his human rights have been breached by the increase of his minimum prison sentence to 20 years, after his trial judge had recommended 15. But the law lords ruled that his sentence should have been determined by the courts and not by the home secretary.

Before the ruling Mr Blunkett had vowed to bring in a new law, making sure "life means life".

Should the home secretary have control over life sentences? Should life mean life?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

What has happened to the human rights of the millions of people in this country that don't commit crimes. Life should mean life and the Home Secretary should have the final say. Seven law lords ruling in favour of a convicted killer is incredible and makes our judicial system look ludicrous.
Heather, UK

Politicians should not only be permitted to have a say in determining sentences - they should actually be encouraged to do so. Politicians are accountable to the general public; judges are not. If politicians are denied the ability to set sentences, how can we (the general public) have any input into the process?
Martin, England

If too many lifers are being freed, then change the law

Mark, UK
You're asking the wrong question. The point is that the power to set the term of a life imprisonment should be vested in the hands of the judiciary who are bound to attempt to interpret the law consistently. Certainly not in one politician, subject to his or her personal prejudice, party politics and the whims of public/media opinion. If too many lifers are being freed, then change the law.
Mark, UK

No law person seems to take into account the fact that the murderer removed all human rights from the victim as well as terminating their life. In many cases the murderer is also responsible for "murdering" the lives of the nearest and dearest of the victim as well. In this country the criminal justice system is more concerned with crimes against property than those against people. Until we redress the civil and human rights of the victims of crime, the public perception of justice will always be suspicious. This can lead to vigilante action. Is this what we want?
Georgina Protheroe-Beynon, England, Cumbria

Life should mean life. The innocent person whose life they took won't be coming back in 15 or 20 years. We should be like the States where a judge can sentence a murderer to 99 years, making sure they won't come out again
D, Wales

I have to wonder regarding some of your contributors. Politicians cannot be trusted, but judges can. Politicians for all their faults are at least elected by the people and can be evicted by them. Too many judges are academic elites totally divorced from the realities of society. I know my comments are Australian-based, but both systems run along similar lines.
Michael Hunt, Australia

Despite the ruling of the House of Lords, (unelected body), I believe that the Home Secretary should still be able to decide, in exceptional circumstances, to set the tariff for life sentences. The Home Secretary is the elected representative of the people. Judges and the House of Lords are unelected people who have nothing in common with the ordinary decent person, trying to remain safe. I think we have lost another slice of democracy today.
Niall, UK

I applaud the Law Lords' decision - sentencing should be carried out by an independent judiciary, not a meddling politician. And to all those people who weren't paying attention at school - it's called a life sentence to distinguish it from a death sentence and has never meant lifelong imprisonment.
Nick Strugnell, UK

When the death penalty was abolished, the Home Secretary was granted power to ensure that murderers would receive adequate sentences. The Home Secretary, unlike judges, is accountable to the public and must take the views of society into account. Judges are under no such constraints; indeed they are unaccountable and seem to be totally out of touch with public opinion. It would seem that judges can't be allowed to be swayed by British society, but can be led by the nose by the crackpot European Court of Human Rights( I don't remember voting for them). If the Home Secretary is to be emasculated the decision must be made by an elected Parliament, such as it is, not by a Judicial clique.
Paul, England

Perhaps life should mean life, but the Home Secretary should not be deciding how long an individual remains in prison. Let an independent judge decide.
Zacc, UK

Not all murderers are beyond rehabilitation

Ross Parker, UK
I don't think there should be as many life sentences but where it exists, life should mean life. Prisons have two purposes: to protect the public and to rehabilitate the offender. I don't think all murderers are beyond rehabilitation and so I don't agree with life sentences for any but the most hardened and vile murderers. However, the threshold of this vileness should be determined by the courts, not politicians.
Ross Parker, UK

Life should mean a life in prison. The only thing prisoners lose these days is their freedom and nothing more. Minimum terms should be set by a judge in the UK, not one abroad, or by the government, or these human rights do gooders. Although I have to admit that David Blunkett is on the right track, if these criminals don't do the crime then they won't do the time.
Vicky, UK

Sentencing someone to life in prison leaves no room at all for rehabilitation
Neil Riley, UK

I'd rather see a criminal rot in jail than see their victims fearing for their lives

Christine, UK
Parliament should legislate that life means life. Then there would be no need for the home secretary to get involved and judges would have clear instructions on when to dish out life sentences. It's about time that victims come first and criminals come second. I'd rather see a criminal rot in jail than see their victims fearing for their lives because they have been set free.
Christine, UK

I agree that life should be for life as in the cases of convicted murderers like Hindley and Brady, but why as taxpayers should we pay for them to be in prison with no chance of parole, until they die. Surely it would make sense to expect them to fund their own prison sentences or reintroduce capital punishment.
Mitch, England

Parliament should create legislation that ensures that life means life

Joanna Jones, England
Life should certainly mean life in some cases and parliament should create legislation that ensures that this is the case. However, no politician should have the right to personally intervene over minimum tariffs in individual cases - because that allows shallow populism to get in the way of justice.
Joanna Jones, England

Life should indeed mean life. I've never understood why a life sentence is 25 years. Surely that should be called '25 years'? The power to extend or reduce sentences should be left to law courts and parole panels. But certain crimes should indeed warrant life.
James, Japan

Anyone handed a life sentence should stay there until they die. They should not be eligible for parole and they should not be let out on shopping trips or to see football games, as we always read in the news. I get so sick of seeing criminals who have committed horrendous crimes, being released after eight or nine years of a 'life' sentence, often to go on and commit again. If the crime is so serious that it gets the life sentence it shouldn't matter whether they go on to feel remorse, or change their ways - the deed has been done and they should accept the punishment, not get let out early because they're 'no longer a threat to society'.
George, UK

The desire to look tough on crime will always overcome the desire to be just

David Patrick, UK
It is right for the home secretary to be stripped of the power to fix minimum terms. The desire to look tough on crime will always overcome the desire to be just. Any still dangerous criminal will not get parole even when their minimum term is up so I don't understand the fuss. A judge (and only a judge) should have the right to set a term of life without parole. The home secretary (and politicians in general) should never get involved in individual cases anyway.
David Patrick, UK

Why does life not mean life in this country then? There would not be a need for politicians to decide the length of imprisonment if it was so. Judges seem to be so lenient with their recommendations and I am really surprised that this murderer got even 15 years behind bars. He most likely will be out after 10 years.
Ülle Campbell, Scotland

It is not a question of whether life should mean life or not, but rather one of who should decide. It is far better and more just if that person be a judge who has heard the evidence and can make a sensible recommendation rather than a politician who is swayed by a public that have only heard details of a case via the media
David Lewis, UK

This just goes to show how out of step with public opinion the House of Lords is and always has been. The judicial system seems to be in favour of the criminal, not the victim.
Archie, UK

So Mr Anderson didn't breach his victim's human rights when he killed them?
Giles, England

Should life mean life for convicted killers?



2721 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

25 Nov 02 | Politics
21 Oct 02 | Politics
21 Oct 02 | UK
08 Jul 02 | Politics
13 Dec 01 | England
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