Life Sentences: Public Understanding

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:22 pm on 30 April 2024.

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Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 5:22, 30 April 2024

I am a father, and I read some of the cases of child murder with the same level of horror that my hon. Friend does. I have to say that if my child had been brutally murdered in that way, I would expect and hope for a whole-life order.

However, the point that has to land in the Chamber today is that judgments are made, particularly in the press and in the general public, that are not based on full knowledge of the facts presented to the court. That is why we are trying to educate the public on how and why sentences are being given in the way they are. It is not possible to do that in every case, but it must be done based on the facts presented to the court for the jury to find the defendant guilty.

The Government have also increased the powers available to the courts by raising the maximum penalties for acts of cruelty. As I mentioned earlier, I just want to reiterate that there is no early release for those who commit child murder and are given a life sentence. The minimum term must be served in prison in full before the offender can be considered for release at the discretion of the Parole Board.

In the time that I have remaining, I want to touch quickly on my hon. Friend’s point about concurrent sentences. Judges will generally impose concurrent sentences where there are multiple offences arising from the same incident, or where there is a series of offences committed of the same or similar kind, especially against the same person. Consecutive sentences are generally imposed where the offences arise out of unrelated-factor incidents, even if they are part of a wider pattern of behaviour.

As I hope my hon. Friend will appreciate, however, sentencing is a matter for our independent courts. Parliament has provided them with a broad range of sentencing powers to deal effectively and appropriately with offenders. Courts also have a statutory duty to follow sentencing guidelines developed by the independent Sentencing Council for England and Wales.

Although sentencing is a matter for independent judges, the Government have committed to locking up the most dangerous criminals away for longer—to protect the public and deliver the justice the public expects. Since 2010, average sentence lengths have increased by 49% to the year ending June 2023. We have introduced tougher punishments for the worst offenders, including extending whole-life orders to premeditated child murders and ending the automatic halfway release for serious crimes, which my hon. Friend acknowledged in his speech.

We are going further still, and the Sentencing Bill will ensure that rapists and serious sexual offenders serve their full custodial term in prison. As acknowledged by my hon. Friend, in the Sentencing Bill we are also adding murder with sexual or sadistic conduct to the list of those offences that will become the subject of a new duty to impose a whole-life order, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

In conclusion, I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to this debate, to my hon. Friend for securing it and to others for attending—although I think they may be here for the next debate. I found the debate very valuable in my consideration of the issues at hand, and I hope I have reassured my hon. Friend and those in attendance, at least to an extent, that I and the Government continue to take these issues into account as we strive to improve the criminal justice system.

Question put and agreed to.