Peer calls for abolition of mandatory life sentence

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The Independent Online
The campaign to free Private Lee Clegg, the paratrooper jailed for killing a joy-rider in Belfast, was given a boost yesterday when Lord Lane, the former Lord Chief Justice, said he should not have received a mandatory life sentence.

Lord Lane was repeating his calls for the compulsory life sentence for murder to be abolished as the Home Office begins its review of the murder penalty.

His evidence to the Home Affairs select committee yesterday was supported by Lord Windlesham, the former Conservative Home Office minister and chairman of the parole board, who said cases such as Clegg's, that of Nigel Cox, convicted of an attempted mercy killing, and of the battered wife Sara Thornton, had all undermined the public's confidence in the mandatory life sentence. They illustrated the whole range of crime covered by a murder charge. Lord Lane said it could never be argued that they were all"uniquely heinous crimes" and could not be compared to, say, the aircraft bomber who killed hundreds. "There is a huge range of murder and to lump them all together and give the same sentence is wrong," he told the committee.

He rejected suggestions that a new category of offence be made for soldiers or police who murder in the course of their duties. He said: "Once you start tinkering with the definition of murder you get into very great difficulties indeed. It should stay as murder, but give the judge the discretion to pass an appropriate sentence and the problem is solved."

Both Lord Lane and Lord Windlesham said the life sentence would then have more meaning.

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