Page last updated at 12:36 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Murderers to be jailed for longer

Brian Boyle and Greig Maddock
Brian Boyle and Greig Maddock both had their sentences increased

Killers could have to spent the rest of their natural lives behind bars after appeal court judges increased the minimum prison term for murder.

The judges said the 12-year minimum sentence which was often imposed in murder cases was generally too lenient.

And they said the worst killers should spend longer than 30 years in prison - the previous maximum sentence.

The judges issued the new guidelines in response to an appeal by Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini QC.

Anyone convicted of murder is given an automatic life sentence, but judges set a minimum term that must be served before the killer is able to apply for parole.

A punishment part as low as 12 years would not be appropriate unless there were strong mitigating circumstances
Scottish Courts statement

Mrs Angiolini said an appeal case in 2002 had led to an understanding that the range of minimum terms imposed by judges was a "relatively compressed scale from 12 years to 30 years".

In their ruling issued on Thursday, the appeal court judges agreed with Mrs Angiolini that 12 years was too lenient unless there were exceptional circumstances - and said minimum sentences of more than 30 years could be imposed for mass murderers.

Among the five judges who had been convened to examine the issue was Scotland's most senior judge, Lord Hamilton.

He said it would be open to a sentencing judge in a murder case "to specify a period which was in excess, even well in excess, of the offender's anticipated lifespan".

Knife crime

And he said minimum sentences of at least 16 years should be set for knife murders in order to tackle the "scourge" of knife crime.

A statement issued by the court said: "It has held that there may well be cases (for example, mass murders by terrorist action) for which a punishment part of more than 30 years may, subject to any mitigating considerations, be appropriate.

"A punishment part as low as 12 years would not be appropriate unless there were strong mitigating circumstances, and a punishment part of less than 12 years should not be set in the absence of exceptional circumstances - for example, where the offender is a child.

"Where the offender has deliberately armed himself with a knife or other sharp instrument and committed murder with it, the court would expect, other than in exceptional circumstances, the punishment part to be at least 16 years - in some cases significantly longer.

"It has endorsed a view expressed in an earlier case that where the victim is a child or a police officer acting in the execution of his duty, or where a firearm is used, a punishment part in the region of 20 years should be set."

Unduly lenient

Mrs Angiolini had also asked the appeal court to examine whether the sentences on killers Robert Kelly, Brian Boyle, and Greig Maddock had been unduly lenient.

Kelly was jailed for a minimum 15 years for strangling loan firm collector Agnes "Nessa"' Mechan, 64, and hiding her body under floorboards in the Govanhill area of Glasgow in 2002. The body was only found four years later.

Boyle and Maddock had been sentenced to 15 and 12 years respectively in 2007 after murdering father-of-two Brian Bowie by setting fire to him in Dunfermline.

The judges ruled that Kelly's minimum sentence should be increased to 19 years, and also increased the minimum sentences on Boyle and Maddock to 20 and 18 years respectively.

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