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Public Protection Sentences, Dangerous Offenders, Extended Sentences, Life Sentences - Courts

Sentencing Dangerous Offenders

Extended Sentences

An extended sentence can be imposed only in the Crown Court. For persons 18 or over the courts power to impose an extended sentence is contained in s.226A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Sections 224 and 227 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 require the court to pass an extended sentence of imprisonment (if the offender was aged 21 or over on conviction) or an extended sentence of detention in a young offender institution (if he was aged 18, 19 or 20 on conviction) in the following circumstances:

The offence must be:
• a) one of the violent or sexual offences specified in Schedule 15; and
• b) punishable by a determinate sentence of less than 10 years.

There must be a significant risk to the public of serious harm (i.e. death or serious personal injury) caused by the offender's committing further Schedule 15 offences.

The 'purposes of sentencing' provisions of section 142 of the Act and the requirement that the offence(s) must be so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified do not apply.

"Serious harm" means death or serious personal injury, whether physical or psychological: S. 224 (3) CJA 2003. See R v Lang and others [2005] (The Times, 10 November) where the Court of Appeal indicated that previous case law would still be considered relevant guidance in assessing this issue.

The extension period must not exceed:-
• (a)5 years in the case of a specified violent offence, and
• (b)8 years in the case of a specified sexual offence.

Three Strikes provisions

Minimum sentence of 7 years for third class A drug trafficking offence

There is a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years for an adult who is convicted on three separate occasion of dealing in Class A drugs- section 110 Power of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 / section 313 The Sentencing Act 2020.

Minimum mandatory sentence of three years for anyone convicted of burglary of a dwelling for the third time - section 111 Power of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 / section
The Sentencing Act 2020.

Minimum sentence for repeat offence involving weapon or bladed article There is a minimum custodial sentence term of (at least) 6 months. See. Section 315 The Sentencing Act 2020.

For each sentence, the court has discretion not to impose the minimum term if it considers it would be unjust having regard to the particular circumstances of the offence(s) or the offender. The court must state the particular circumstances when passing sentence.

Indeterminate prison sentences

An 'indeterminate' prison sentence does not have a fixed length of time.
This means:
• no date is set when the person will be released
• they have to spend a minimum amount of time in prison (called a 'tariff') before they're considered for release

The Parole Board is responsible for deciding if someone can be be released from prison.

Life Sentences

When a court passes a life sentence it means that the offender will be subject to that sentence for the rest of their life.  When passing a life sentence, a judge must specify the minimum term (sometimes called the tariff) an offender must spend in prison before becoming eligible to apply for parole. The only exception to this is when a life sentence is passed with a 'whole life order' meaning that such an offender will spend the rest of their life in prison.  A life sentence always lasts for life whatever the length of the minimum term.

Mandatory life sentences

Parliament has decided that judges must give a life sentence to all offenders found guilty of murder. The judge will set a minimum term an offender must serve before they can be considered for release by the Parole Board.

The minimum term for murder is based on the starting points set out in Schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (as amended). This schedule sets out examples of the different types of cases and the starting point which would usually be applied, for example, where the murder is committed with a knife or other weapon, the starting point is 25 years.

The offender will only be released once they have served the minimum term and if the Parole Board is satisfied that detaining the offender is no longer necessary for the protection of the public. If released, an offender serving a life sentence will remain on licence for the rest of their life. They may be recalled to prison at any time if they are considered to be a risk to the public. They do not need to have committed another offence in order to be recalled.

Whole life order

For the most serious cases of murder, an offender may be sentenced to a life sentence with a 'whole life order'. This means that their crime was so serious that they will never be released from prison.

On 30 June 2018 there were 66 offenders serving a whole life sentence. These include serial killers Peter Sutcliffe and Rosemary West. (These statistics are taken from the Ministry of Justice's offender management statistics publications).

Discretionary life sentences

There are a number of crimes for which the maximum sentence for the offence, such as rape or robbery, is life imprisonment. This does not mean that all or most offenders convicted of those offences will get life.

Parliament has made provisions that deal with how offenders who are considered dangerous or who are convicted of a second very serious offence may be sentenced to imprisonment for life. The key provisions are set out here:

1. Life sentence for serious offences

A sentence of imprisonment for life must be imposed, where the following criteria are met (Section 225 Criminal Justice Act 2003):

  • the offender is convicted of a specified offence (listed in Schedule 15 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003); and
  • in the court's opinion the offender poses a significant risk to the public of serious harm by the commission of further specified offences; and
  • the maximum penalty for the offence is life imprisonment; and
  • the court considers that the seriousness of the offence justifies the imposition of imprisonment for life.

 2. Life sentence for second listed offence

The court must impose a sentence of imprisonment for life, where:

  • the offender is convicted of an offence listed in schedule 15B of the Criminal Justice Act 2003; and
  • the court would impose a sentence of imprisonment of 10 years or more for the offence; and
  • the offender has a previous conviction for a listed offence for which he received a life sentence with a minimum term of at least 5 years or a sentence of imprisonment of at least 10 years;

unless it would be unjust to do so in all the circumstances.

The judge in sentencing will set a minimum term that the offender must serve in prison. At the end of that term they can apply to the Parole Board for release on licence but will only be released if no longer considered to be a risk to the public. If released the offender would be subject to certain conditions and if the conditions are broken or if the offender is considered to be a risk to the public they will be sent back to prison.

For further information, please refer to section 224A and Schedule 15B of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (as amended).

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