Blunkett orders longer terms for killers

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The Independent Online

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, is to call on judges this week to hand out "life-means-life" terms for murderers, including terrorists.

Tough new tariffs drawn up by ministers will in effective ensure that those found guilty of terrorist atrocities, as well as sadistic multiple murderers and child killers, will remain in prison until they die.

These new laws will be used for the first time tomorrow when courts reopen after the Christmas break.

Trial judges will be required to impose whole-life sentences on killers aged 21 and above who have committed the most serious crimes or who have been convicted of murder before.

Thirty-year sentences will be handed out to anyone who murders an on-duty police or prison officer or a witness to a crime.

The 30-year minimum will also apply to contract killers, anyone who commits a murder using guns or explosives or who is motivated by racial, religious or sexual hatred of their victim.

The minimum sentence for any other murder will be 15 years for adult offenders before they can be released on a life licence and 12 years for killers under the age of 18.

Mr Blunkett has brought in this sentencing framework to determine how long a murderer should spend in prison as an amendment to the Criminal Justice Act that has now been passed by Parliament.

In a statement, the Home Secretary said it had been introduced to modernise the criminal justice system and to rebalance it in favour of victims and the community.

"Murder is the most serious and abhorrent of crimes. The effect that such tragic loss has on individuals, families and whole communities is immeasurable," said Mr Blunkett. "Parliament has agreed the new framework, which means that the most dangerous and evil people in our society will stay in prison for longer."

Successive Home Secretaries have faced numerous legal challenges over powers that enabled them to decide whether criminals, in individual murder cases, should serve longer than the minimum tariff set by a judge.

In 2002, the House of Lords finally overturned these powers by ruling they were incompatible with human rights laws and that only judges should be allowed to set individual tariffs.

But the new sentencing reforms mean it will now be compulsory for judges to abide by the new minimum sentences, which have been greeted with fierce criticism from legal reformers.

They say they will undermine efforts to reduce re-offending, lead to a rise in the prison population and inevitably increase sentences for other offences.

When the Bill was debated in the House of Lords, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, accused the Government of putting politics into sentencing and said that Mr Blunkett had disregarded Lord Woolf's own guidelines on sentencing, which were generally half the level proposed by the Bill.

These new measures, which apply to any murder committed on or after 18 December last year, mean they will not apply to Ian Huntley, the school caretaker found guilty of murdering the schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells.

Instead, his sentence is expected to be determined this year by a High Court judge who will base the decision on minimum terms imposed in past court judgments but using the new sentencing reforms as guidance.