The ministerial commitment of the time was to a wider review of the legislation governing the determination of tariffs for mandatory life sentences. In Northern Ireland, a person guilty of murder must receive a life sentence, and the sentencing judge must set an appropriate tariff. The tariff is the minimum period the person must remain in prison before being considered for release by the independent Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland (PCNI).
The tariff is determined by the judge considering sentencing guidance, generally from judgements delivered by our Court of Appeal. Sentencing guidance is distinctly different from "sentencing guidelines" or a statutory structured approach for tariff setting as exists in England and Wales. The Department initiated a review of sentencing policy in 2017 and undertook a public consultation on a wide review of sentencing issues, including whether approaches to tariff setting that occur elsewhere should be developed in Northern Ireland, in October 2019. The consultation closed on 3 February with over 200 responses having been received. The responses are being considered.