Criminals who kill police or prison officers in the course of duty are to face whole-life jail sentences.

Changes to the law by the Ministry of Justice will mean judges will start by considering a whole-life tariff when deciding the sentence for killing either a police or prison officer in the course of their duty, up from the current starting point of a 30-year minimum term

Judges would retain the discretion to determine the appropriate sentence in each case – a whole life term will not be mandatory.

There have been 13 direct killings of police officers in the course of duty since 2000 – including the murder of Pcs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes by one-eyed Dale Cregan in Greater Manchester, who was handed a whole-life tariff.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “Police officers play a vital role in keeping communities safe. As has been tragically demonstrated in recent years, this role is a dangerous one which can lead to officers paying the ultimate price while serving their community.

“On a daily basis, prison officers are also asked to protect the public by dealing with violent offenders and standing in the way of criminals in order to keep the peace.

“It is essential that police and prison officers feel the full weight of the state is behind them as they fulfil their crucial duties. Changing the starting point for this offence sends a clear message that the Government supports the work that these vital public servants play.”

The measure is being introduced by an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.

Most recently, PC Andrew Duncan, 47, was hit by a car in Sutton, south London, while checking vehicle speeds in September.

Gary Cody admitted causing death by dangerous driving and was jailed for eight and a half years.

Other measures in the Bill include making criminals contribute towards costs of running the courts by imposing a new charge at point of conviction.

The Bill will also introduce a new offence with a punishment of up to two years in prison for criminals who go on the run while serving the non-custodial element of their sentence.

Other changes will bring an end to the automatic half-way point release for criminals convicted of rape or attempted rape of a child, or serious terrorism offences.