Law Report: Practice Direction

LORD TAYLOR OF GOSFORTH LCJ handed down the following Practice Direction on 8 February 1993.

1) Section 34 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 empowers a judge when passing a sentence of life imprisonment - where such a sentence is not fixed by law - to specify by order such part of the sentence ('the relevant part') as shall be served before the prisoner may require the Secretary of State to refer his case to the Parole Board.

2) The discretionary life sentence falls into two parts: (a) the relevant part, which consists of the period of detention imposed for punishment and deterrence, taking into account the seriousness of the offence and (b) the remaining part, during which the prisoner's detention will be governed by considerations of risk to the public.

3) The judge is not obliged by statute to make use of the provisions of section 34 when passing a discretionary life sentence. However, the judge should do so, save in the very exceptional case where the judge considers the offence is so serious that detention for life is justified by the seriousness of the offence alone, irrespective of the risk to the public. In such a case, the judge should state this in open court when passing sentence.

4) In cases where the judge is to specify the relevant part of the sentence under section 34, the judge should permit counsel for the defendant to address the court as to the appropriate length of the relevant part. Where no relevant part is to be specified, counsel for the defendant should be permitted to address the court as to the appropriateness of this course of action.

5) In specifying the relevant part of the sentence, the judge should have regard to the specific terms of section 34 and indicate the reasons for reaching his decision on the length of the relevant part.

6) Whether or not the court orders that section 34 should apply, the judge shall not, following the imposition of a discretionary life sentence, make a written report to the Secretary of State through the Lord Chief Justice as has been the practice in recent years.

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