DPP: Mandatory life sentence for murder should be scrapped

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The Independent Online

The Director of Public Prosecutions has called for the law requiring murder charges to incur a mandatory life sentence to be replaced with a system in which suspects are charged according to the severity of the killing.

Ken Macdonald, QC, advocated a system similar to the US model, in which prosecutors have the option of charging defendants with first or second degree murder in most cases. Critics will argue that the proposals may mean some convicted murderers escaping life sentences.

The DPP's call follows an announcement last year by the then Home Secretary David Blunkett for a full-scale review, to include a possible change in tariffs.

"I am strongly in favour of a system that recognises degrees of homicide" Mr Macdonald told The Times, endorsing a system under which only those charged with the most serious murders being given a mandatory life sentence. "There should be degrees of homicide."

Prosecutors too often faced the choice of either issuing a charge of murder, carrying a mandatory life sentence, or manslaughter, carrying a lesser sentence.

The so called "either/or" choice carried a risk that, in opting for a murder charge, guilty defendants could be acquitted.