Lenient Murder Laws Fail to Punish Killers; Coronation Street's Tracy Barlow (Kate Ford) Is about to Go on Trial for Killing Her Partner. She Claims Self-Defence, the Prosecution Claims Premeditation. It Might Be the Stuff of TV Soaps, but It Has Thrown the Murder Laws under the Spotlight. Ghulam Sohail, Criminal Lawyer for Birmingham Law Firm Challinors, Explains Why Reform Is Long Overdue
Byline: Ghulam Sohail
The current murder laws are "unclear, unfair or too generous to killers" and should be brought in line with the American system, according to the Law Commission.
There are fewer words in the English language more emotive than murder. It is the ultimate crime, the most heinous of them all, to deny another person their right to live.
It goes against everything we stand for as a society and as such we demand justice through the courts when a murder is committed.
There was a time, in the not so dim and distant past, when murderers were guaranteed to meet their maker at the end of a rope, but there is no longer the political appetite for capital punishment in this country although some American states are executing more murderers than at any time in their history.
I say political appetite, as a high percentage of the great British public would happily reintroduce the death penalty, but for our MPs' benevolent intent. Obviously there can be no greater punishment for murder, but it can hardly be claimed to be a deterrent -there were more than 10,000 murders with handguns alone in the US last year.
So instead of an eye for an eye, as many of the public would like, we have a legal system in this country where anyone found guilty of murder is given a mandatory life sentence. If the state can't kill the guilty, they can at least ensure that they never walk the streets again. Well not quite.
A life sentence may currently be mandatory for those found guilty of murder' it's just that life doesn't actually mean life. For some people of course life will mean life - I'm prepared to stake my reputation on the fact that Ian Huntley will spend the rest of his days in a prison cell and he is not alone in that respect.
But for every Ian Huntley, there are dozens, probably hundreds of men and women who have been convicted of murder who will serve a prison sentence and then be reintroduced into society to live out the rest of their natural lives.
Let's be clear about this, there's probably a convicted murderer living not too far away from you.
This isn't an unusual situation' there are very few countries in the world where the majority of murderers are incarcerated for the rest of their lives. This is because we accept two major points. The first is that prison is not just about punishment but also rehabilitation. The second is that not all murders are the same.
Take the cases of Mary Bell or the James Bulger killers for instance. These children were convicted of terrible murders, served their sentences, and are now out of prison and hopefully giving something back to society.
These examples lead us into the second point, which is really the crux of the Law Commission's recent recommendations. What the commission is stating is that the current murder laws are littered with grey areas and that there is a perception that either some killers are treated too leniently or in other cases too severely.
What it suggests is the introduction of a US-style two-tier system of first and second-degree murder. This essentially would mean that mandatory life sentences were only given to those who intended to kill, whether premeditated or not. …