A senior judge has said the current sentencing tariff system “works against” the interests of those who would like to see “really long” jail sentences imposed for murder– but critics say he should ‘button his judicial lip’.
Judge William Davis QC, a senior circuit judge at Birmingham Crown Court, made the comments at the Police Federation conference after the Home Secretary announced plans to enforce “whole life” sentences for cop killers.
Asked if he thought the proposal could work, Judge Davis, a member of the Sentencing Council, said: “Speaking purely personally here, not on behalf of Sentencing Council, the problem with the current tariff system for murder is its rigidity.
“It sometimes works against the interests of those who would like to see really long sentences.”
Judge Davis alluded to the case of American David Bieber, who murdered Pc Ian Broadhurst and attempted to murder Pcs Neil Roper and James Banks in 2003 in Leeds.
He said the judge wanted to give Bieber a whole life tariff but this was ultimately denied by the Court of Appeal and his term was set at a minimum of 37 years.
He said: “If there was a degree of judicial independence and discretion one could well imagine that a judge would say for doing what that man did, that’s his whole life.
“As a judge I would prefer a degree of flexibility, which currently there isn’t, particularly in relation to tariffs for murder.”
There have been 12 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 last year.
Another high profile case where a police officer died was that of Ian Dibell, an off-duty officer who was shot as he tried to stop a gunman.
Steve Williams, chair of the Police Federation, said: “The public need to have confidence that the criminal sentence they read about in the paper is the sentence the offender completes.
“There is no hierarchy when it comes to victims of murder, however police officers risk their lives on a daily basis confronting danger on behalf of others.
“Would-be offenders must know that they will receive the most severe penalty possible.
“In the names of Fiona Bone, Nicola Hughes and Ian Dibell – three police officers murdered in the last year alone – we support any move that means a true life sentence will be applied to anyone who murders a police officer.'”
David Hanson, shadow policing minister, said: “As the Shadow Home Secretary said last year, the killing of a police officer is a particularly heinous crime that should be punished with the severest possible sentences. We will support any efforts to achieve that aim.”
However, Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners said the calls for more judicial discretion in sentencing was a backward step.
Mr Leech said “Giving Judges more discretion about sentencing is a backward step, it would turn back the sentencing clock 20 years.
“Let’s not forget the reason why we have sentencing guidelines, and a Council to devise them of which Judge William Davis QC is a member, is because history showed that when judges had no guidelines sentences were a lottery, dependent on the prejudices and politics of the sentencing judge.
“If Judge Davis believes the current guidelines on murder are too rigid then as a member of the Sentencing Council he is better placed than many judges to argue for those guidelines to be changed – until he can do that he should either resign from the Council or, in public, button his judicial lip.”