WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
May 21 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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60% increase in murder sentences over last two decades fuelling ‘sentence inflation’

60% increase in murder sentences over last two decades fuelling ‘sentence inflation’

HMP Prison: Pic from Proof 4 by Andy Aitchison

New research reveals that murderers are now getting ‘substantially increased’ minimum prison sentences fuelling a trend of sentence inflation across other serious crimes, such as manslaughter and sexual offences.

According to the report by the Sentencing Academy written by Dr Richard Martin of LSE, average minimum terms for murder have soared from 13 years in 2000 to 21 years in 2021, marking a 60% surge. By June 2023, over 7,000 inmates were serving minimum terms for murder, with a staggering 174% increase in whole life orders since 2000.

For murder convictions, courts are mandated to impose life imprisonment, with judges specifying a minimum term to be served. Originally provided by Schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, guidelines included starting points and lists of aggravating and mitigating factors to consider.

Over the past two decades, successive governments have amended Schedule 21, broadening higher-level starting points and introducing new ones. The Sentencing Council acknowledges these changes have ‘substantially increased’ sentences for most murder cases, driving up the prison population.

This uptick in minimum terms has not only impacted murder sentencing but also swelled sentence lengths for other serious offences. The average custodial sentence for manslaughter almost doubled from 5.4 to 8.8 years between 2007 and 2017, while prison terms for sexual offences rose by 50%.

Dr Martin argues that the inflation of minimum terms reflects a ‘climate of penal populism and crime control’. Priorities of being ‘tough on crime’ are taking over from rehabilitative justice. Interviews with legal experts indicate a perception that these legal changes are politically driven rather than grounded in judicial considerations.