Prosecutors to have say in length of sentences for killers

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The Independent Online

Prosecution barristers are to be given the chance to influence prison terms for murderers, the Home Office said yesterday. It is preparing the move, which breaks ground in English legal practice, as part of its planned shake-up in the sentencing of murder cases.

Judges will get wider-than-expected discretion to step outside the rigid structure of sentences proposed by the Government for murder.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, announced plans last week to give convicted murderers whole life sentences, or a minimum of 30 years or a minimum of 15 years, depending on the severity of the offence. The proposals are in an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill going through the Commons.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, a Home Office minister, said prosecutors would be able to intervene before sentence is passed by reminding the judge of the seriousness of the case and any aggravating factors.

Similar powers exist in American courts, but have never existed in this country, where only defence lawyers can point to mitigating circumstances. Lord Falconer said the power would be granted only in murder convictions. "We envisage a process that where the defendant has been convicted, he will address the court on the application of the primary principles," he said.

Lord Falconer added: "He will not be calling for a specific sentence; he will be able to point to the guidelines which make the crime fall into a category, the particular tariff and the areas of mitigation."

* Mr Blunkett will announce today that defendants who fail to attend court or offend while on bail will be held in custody.

He said: "Nearly a quarter of defendants offend on bail and one in eight fails to turn up in court. This leads to ineffective trials, delays that frustrate victims and witnesses, wasted resources, and undermines public confidence in criminal justice."