Some murderers could serve less than 10 years in prison under guidelines unveiled by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Woolf.
Convicted murders would only be released early if they had given themselves up before their crime had even been detected.
But people admitting serious offences at the earliest opportunity could be entitled to a one third cut in the minimum sentence they serve.
The aim of the new guidelines is to recognise that an early guilty plea can spare victims and witnesses the trauma of giving evidence or re-living the crime.
These are the first draft guidelines issued under the new Criminal Justice Act which also deals with advice to judges on how to use new weekend and part-time jail terms available from next year.
Such a sentence allows people to maintain jobs and family links while serving part of their week in prison.
Do you agree with the Lord Chief Justice? Should pleading guilty be enough for a sentence reduction? Would an early guilty plea spare victims and witnesses a trauma of re-living a crime? How should the weekend and part-time jail work? Send us your views.
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
A selection of your comments:
Has anyone actually consulted and worked with families who have lost loved ones through murder? There is absolutely no victim perpective within these proposals. My sister was murdered over two years ago, we are still awaiting the tariff to be set with regards to her killer and are being told it is likely to be no more than 13 years. There is no justice for victims of murder and their families.
I respect that not all cases are clear-cut and simple. However had my sister's killer admitted his crime, then under new proposals he could possibly serve only 7 years? For those ignorant and deluded do-gooders who suggest such ridiculous changes - try explaining that to families like mine, who live with the pain day in and day out. Only people who have lost someone through the most evil act know what that life-long pain and suffering is like to endure; we should be at the very least increasing sentences for such a truly awful crime, not reducing them. This really is sending the wrong ! message out and is another giant step backwards for the judicial system in this country.
Its all very saying, it's about reform not punishment. I take this point, however, as the son of a Prison Governor I have grown up in an environment where I have been exposed to these people. I have had more dealings with murderers and armed robbers than most. The fact remains that if you are willing to go out and kill someone then you must be punished. Fair enough, it should be about rehabilitation too but there must also be a degree of deterrent there to show people that they must not do these terrible acts.
To say that a murderer will be released in 10 years is a joke. It's fair enough to say that they are saving the families the trauma of a trial but what about the families need to see justice in action, that the law will prevail in the end? It seems this has been forgotten about. And if the argument is that prisons are getting full then I'm afraid its incredibly simple, build more.
Ste, Liverpool, England
I believe that life is the most precious gift that we have. To live life is to celebrate to take a life therefore, is the worst crime that we may commit, no matter how it is committed. I believe that those who take a life should lose a life and be in prison for the rest of their lives. No reprieve.
Christopher Murray, Belfast
The proposals do make lots of sense but I do believe that the severity of the crimes and details surrounding the murder must be taken into account well above confession when sentencing is passed. It would shed light to investigators and psychologist to better understand the reasons behind, and scenario around such events
Ray Ananenu, Sheffield, UK
The justice system in this country is a joke. They'll be out in five years for 'good behaviour'. I think sentencing should be left to the victim's family. Let them choose the appropriate punishment for the perpetrator of the crime - justice will truly be served.
HM, London, UK
This is the sort of thing the majority of people like me, hate to read. It makes me so mad that we're looking at ways to make criminals lives easier, when we should be looking at making being a criminal harder and imposing longer, harder prison sentences. This country's so called justice system makes me sick sometimes.
I have never read something so disgusting. There were 5 murders in one day in London why? I ask myself. Because there is nothing to deter such a heinous crime. Bring back the death penalty
Ernie Hulley, London Surrey
What next? if the murderer tells the police he is going to murder someone before he does it can he get a 50% reduction of his sentence?
Adele Moss, Wigan, England
At the rate the UK is going, soon it will be a slap on the wrist and a GBP100 fine for murder. Murder is murder. And life should mean life in prison
David Savage, Hong Kong
A more appealing approach is to say the minimum sentence is say 15 years if admitted at the very first opportunity, for those who elect to go through the whole trial process to be found guilty by the jury then his sentence should be enhanced by say 25% The message must be that the sentence must fit the initial crime.
Tony World, Fareham, England
What next "Kill one, get one free". Further reductions for bulk?
Kevin, Liverpool, UK
I think that all murderers should have a very short sentence. That of the death penalty for example. Of course, after their execution they should be free to do as they wish...
John, Southampton, UK
These suggestions serve merely to reduce the costs of trial (with a guilty plea, there is no lengthy trial by jury), and to reduce the financial cost attached to the sentence. The main driving force behind all of Woolf's reforms has been the reduction of costs, without thought to the underlying philosophy of a legal system: justice and equity. If people are willing to take the life of another (the most heinous act a person can undertake), then he should lose his liberties accordingly.
If you are willing to undermine the 'human rights' of one person to the extent that you destroy them completely (taking from them the right to life), then you also should expect to lose your human rights accordingly, and in equal measure. There is too much talk of the human rights of prisoners, and it must not be forgotten that these are people that give little thought to the rights of others. It is the rights of these others, the victims, that is forgotten in the modern criminal justice system! . Yes, the penal system is concerned with reform, but it is also responsible for punishment. There is a definite case for the introduction of more lengthy sentences and the re-introduction of capital punishment where the offence merits such a sentence.
Anon, Perth, Australia
It's all very well for Lord Woolf to say that 'extremely important for an offender to show "that he accepted he had acted contrary to the law and was prepared to take his punishment".' But these new guidelines will only be used by offenders and unscrupulous lawyers in order to get the most lenient sentence on offer. There is no thought of the victim in any of this, at all!
Why should someone who has committed a serious crime have their sentence lowered purely on the basis of admitting it before they are found out. Any fool can see that this is just a get out of jail free card. Criminals already have the opportunity to give an early guilty plea why should they be rewarded for it? As the old saying goes - if you done the crime then do the time. Is anyone taking into consideration the 'real' feelings of the victim or victim's families?
Nika, Oxford, UK
This sends a completely wrong message to criminals, regardless of whether they have committed an act of murder or a petty crime in that if you "play nice" you will be rewarded. This only serves to perpetuate the fact that the judiciary is completely divorced from reality. What another gravy train for the legal profession.
Craig, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales
This is absolutely absurd. In a time where people are losing faith in the justice system and the length of sentences, they should have been doubled not reduced. Make it clear crime does not pay, not encourage it!
Sue, London, UK
Justice - there is no such thing for the victims - it appears to me that the human rights of the criminal takes priority. Could the motive for reducing prison sentences be because the prison service can't cope?
Neil Barker, Leeds
It must be marvellous to live in the black and white world that many posters on this board inhabit. There is a whole spectrum of reasons why people commit murder from provocation, abuse, jealousy at one end of the spectrum to wanton evilness at the other. This law is trying to acknowledge that, not everyone who has committed murder is an ongoing danger to the public.
Isn't it about time that these liberal law-makers were forcibly evicted from their ivory towers and forced to spend a year living on an inner-city council estate, without protection. We would soon see and end to these absurd suggestions and blinkered ideologies. To Lord Woolf and others like him I say, get real or get out.
JR, Wigan, England
Saying 'life should mean life' is an easy, simplistic, comforting but entirely unrealistic view of the crime of murder. Like it or not, there are some things we describe as murder that are worse than others. Are people suggesting that the loving husband who kills his terminally ill wife, for example, is on the same level as a mass murderer? Having different levels of sentencing allows the punishment to be proportionate with the crime. And by the way, sentences are always lower when someone has pleaded guilty or confessed originally, so this isn't anything new.
Katherine, London, UK
So criminals can expect a third off for early admission of guilt "because it spares the victims". Does anyone seriously expect the public to believe that? It's simply to reduce the cost of trial - it's all to do with money. Same with reduced sentences, it costs less and we don't have to build new prisons. Nothing can "spare the victim" of a rape. It's time the people making these rulings came from the real world not some cloistered environment, I'd like to know if Victim Support agencies had any input into these guidelines.
Terry, Epsom, Surrey, England
Is this the first step towards an American "plea bargaining" system. This goes against the whole concept of the punishment fitting the crime.
Terry Evans, Horsham, England
People forget that part of the aim of the justice system is to prevent people from re-offending, not just punishment. If someone has committed a crime and truly repents their actions and are judged not to be a risk to society, then give them a lighter sentence. Seven years is around a 10th of a human lifespan. I think that is long enough.
Predictably, the hang-em-and-flog-em brigades are demanding the return of capital punishment and stiffer penalties. When will people learn? The punishment of the courts isn't about vengeance, it's about reform. If a shorter sentence can achieve this then we should look at all of the options before dismissing them out of hand. There is also the fact that encouraging criminals to confess frees-up the police to tackle other crimes, so we'd probably end-up with more criminals being caught and convicted.
Dominic Tristram, Bath, UK
It all comes down to money. If a killer admits to killing, then the legal system will not be drained financially! Forget the victims, they don't matter and they have no say. This is all about the offender and the legal system. If they can save money and other resources, then they don't care how long a killer serves. It is no wonder there are so many murders in the capital. I just can't wait to get out of here.
Anon, London, UK
If convicted of murder they should serve life. If they are prepared to take a life there is no deterrent in a sentence of ten years or less.
Who the hell are these people to decide that murderers should be given special treatment? Bring back capital punishment, if you commit a murder the same should be done to you. Is anybody thinking of the victim's families?
Christine, Cardiff, Wales
Interesting that the old maxim will continue to apply... "Commit any crime you like but don't drink and drive on the way back..." Absurd.
Jake Deveraux, Muttleswick, Beds
This is simply to avoid over-crowding in jails. Surely if there are more offenders, there is a strong argument for more jails?
Lee Hurrell, East Malling, UK
I can see the reasons for offering an incentive for a criminal to confess at the outset, but the way we're going it won't be long before a hardened criminal simply turns up in court, says "Yes your honour, I'm a very naughty boy and I'll never do it again" and then walks free to do it again.
What is the point of giving someone a prison sentence, when they are not going to serve it? My sister was the victim of attempted murder, her attacker got 12 years and will be out in 8! If they are given 12 years they should do the full time. The victims get no time reduction, they will suffer forever!
Samantha, Battle, UK
The basic logic seems fair - admit what you've done and receive a lesser punishment - the flaw is that the standard tariff is about 5-10 years too low.
Andrew, Cardiff, Wales
This is absolutely scandalous, and should never have even been considered. Murder is murder, no matter which way you look at it! For taking the life of another human, you should expect to go down for a lengthy term yourself.
Andy, Leeds, UK
We should make prisons such a place that a person wouldn't want to go back there. If you're given a sentence of 10 years, you should serve 10 years, and not be released any sooner. A life sentence should mean life. Also, all sentences should serve consecutively and not concurrently.
Paul Adams, UK
A Burglar is convicted and is sentenced to three years. If he had pleaded guilty it would have been two years. Doesn't this mean he is receiving a 12 month sentence for the "offence" of exercising his right to a fair trial.
Dave Williams, Prudhoe, UK
I think that instead of reducing the tariff for a person who has taken a life, the formulation of that tariff should not change. The thing that should change is that there should be an investment in the prison estate, by way of building new establishments. There has been a lack of investment, in fact there has been systematic stripping of resources within the prison service to achieve a more cost effective service. It is so wrong to allow people who kill some discount for finally being honest!!
Jon Jones, Sittingbourne, Kent
Oh, well that's alright then. The fact you took away someone else's life is obviously far less of a problem for their family because you admitted it at the earliest opportunity. Every time I think judges can't possibly get any more removed from reality, they somehow manage to prove that they can.
Dean, Maidenhead, UK
I don't believe there can be any fixed rules about sentencing, but 7 years does seem rather light for murder. Prisons may be overcrowded but we really shouldn't be letting murderers out that early should we?
Paul, Northampton, UK
Far from reducing sentences, we should be looking at the Ultimate Sentence for certain crimes such as terrorism. This is a very bad proposal and I shall be interested to see what other contributors say!
Chris Green, Hagley England
Why don't we just increase sentences to 50+ years (or make life mean life) and deter them rather than look after them?
James, Sussex, UK