Angiolini, Megrahi and death behind bars

Lord Advocate opens Govanhill Law Centre

The Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini Q.C. has asked appeal judges to increase the minimum jail terms which must be served by murderers, which would see the worst offenders receiving “rest of life” sentences.

The Crown has taken the cases of three men convicted of murder to the Court of Criminal Appeal, claiming that the sentences they received were “unduly lenient”.

At present, anyone convicted of murder receives a life sentence, but the sentencing judge must set a period – the “punishment part” – which must be served before the killer can be considered for parole. This system was introduced following the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights and informs the murderer of the minimum time he or she must serve in jail.

Angiolini told the court that an appeal case in 2002 had led to an understanding that the range of punishment parts available to reflect the seriousness of the crime was “a relatively compressed scale from 12 years to 30 years”. In that case, the murderer, who shot three people, had his minimum term reduced from 30 years to 27.

She continued: “As lord advocate I consider that is inadequate to reflect the wide range of conduct which may amount to murder and fails to reflect adequately the exceptionally serious cases of murder, particularly those involving multiple victims, terrorism or persistent sexual violence against vulnerable adults or children.

“I am asking the court to consider issuing a guideline opinion which will recognise that 30 years is not the absolute maximum punishment part and recognises explicitly that in some exceptional cases a punishment part which exceeds the natural life expectancy may be appropriate.”

This has been widely reported as a desire on the part of Scotland’s senior prosecutor to see killers “rot in jail” or for life to mean life in the most serious cases.

In England, the worst cases of murder can already attract “whole life” orders.

The close proximity in timing with the Megrahi case invites the impartial observer to draw parallels between the two. Of course, the Lord Advocate had lodged her own appeal against Megrahi’s sentence for undue leniency – an appeal which was subsequently withdrawn as academic following his compassionate release.

Although she did not put it in quite this way, the headlines have it that Angiolini has specifically demanded: “Let worst killers die in prison” (BBC News). And in giving examples of the types of cases which may attract the longest sentences, she specifically listed “those involving multiple victims” and “terrorism”.

Is this co-incidence or is the Lord Advocate telling us what she really thinks of Kenny MacKaskill’s decision?

Posted on Absolvitor: Scots Law Online.

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