Whole-life prison sentences will now be the ‘default’ punishment for murderers involved in cases deemed "sexual or sadistic" in nature, the Prime Minister has said.
This comes in the wake of the recent conviction of former NHS neo-natal nurse Lucy Letby, who was handed a whole-life sentence for her involvement in the murder of seven babies and the attempted murder of six others on August 18.
Letby becomes only the fourth woman in England and Wales to receive a whole-life tariff. Currently, there are 66 men serving such sentences in prisons and secure hospitals across both nations, Sky News reported.
And now, the government is planning to amend existing legislation so that "judges are obligated to impose whole-life orders on the most depraved killers, except in extremely rare circumstances," according to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk.
He said that "a whole life order will now be the expectation for murderers where the killing involves sexual or sadistic conduct." The proposed legislative changes aim to provide judges with greater confidence in imposing whole-life sentences without fearing appeals in the Courts of Appeal.
This move follows previous amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which expanded the criteria for whole-life tariffs to include premeditated murders of children. Now, murders classified as "sexually-motivated" will also fall under this most severe category.
This revision in the law could have implications for recent cases that garnered widespread attention. The murders of Zara Aleena and Sabina Nessa, both of which involved sexual assault, would potentially warrant whole-life sentences under the new guidelines.
Jordan McSweeney, convicted for the murder of Ms Aleena in Ilford, received a life sentence with a minimum term of 38 years, while Koci Selamaj, who killed Ms Nessa in Greenwich, was handed a life sentence with a minimum of 36 years.
Notably, Wayne Couzens, a former Metropolitan Police officer who kidnapped, raped, and strangled Sarah Everard in 2021, had previously been given a whole-life sentence. Lord Justice Fulford, who presided over Couzens’ case, justified the decision by highlighting the "exceptionally high" gravity of Couzens’ crimes and the "misuse of a police officer’s role."
Commenting on the policy change, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said, "I have shared the public’s horror at the cruelty of crimes we have seen recently. People rightly expect that in the most serious cases, there should be a guarantee that life will mean life.
“They expect honesty in sentencing. By bringing in mandatory whole life orders for the heinous criminals who commit the most horrific types of murder, we will make sure they never walk free."
In response, Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed MP criticised the government’s approach, asserting that Labour would not accept lessons from a "soft on crime Tory government."
He expressed concerns about unsolved crimes and the shortage of prison space for dangerous criminals, pledging that, if elected, Labour would implement tougher sentences and expand prison infrastructure to accommodate them.