Should life mean life?

The Lord Advocate, Elish Angioloini QC, yesterday reopened the debate on whether a life sentence should actually mean life or not. The Lord Advocate urged judges to increase the minimum jail term for murderers and to impose whole life sentences on the worst offenders.

The Lord Advocate reopened the debate over whether life should mean life in a plea at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh during two cases where the Crown is seeking longer sentences. She also highlighted the need for the judiciary to recognise Scotland’s “endemic knife culture”.

The Lord Advocate’s comments came on the same day that Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill confirmed plans which would effectively ban prison sentences of six months or less unless sheriffs state why they are using them, and just days after the association for high court judges and sheriffs accused the Scottish Government of challenging their independence through proposals for a formal sentencing guidelines council.

Ms Angiolini’s contention emerged as she put the Crown case in the two murder appeals in which it claims the minimum term, known as a punishment part of a life sentence which a prisoner must serve before becoming eligible to seek parole, was too low. However, Donald Findlay, QC, told the court the Scottish criminal system placed its trust in the trial judge to deal with a case, subject to possible review by the appeal court.

He said:

What the Crown are seeking to do, I would wish to argue, is to politicise that and introduce a political element that this court should not be prepared to allow.

I fundamentally believe that the judiciary should have two options when sentencing people for murder. In my opinion judges should have the option to sentence an offender to “life imprisonment without parole”, especially in cases where the offender is guilty of more than one murder as well as the option to sentence a person to life imprisonment and a minimum term that they must serve before they are eligible for parole.

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