Government cracks down on early release for killers

The Justice Secretary is proposing criminals jailed for life should serve two-thirds of their sentences before being considered for parole

Killers jailed for life will no longer be allowed out halfway through their sentence under a crackdown on “soft” justice unveiled by Robert Buckland.

Announcing the shake-up in an article for The Telegraph, the Justice Secretary proposes criminals jailed for life should in future serve a minimum two-thirds of their sentences in jail before they are even considered for parole.

It means the killers of Stephen Lawrence – Gary Dobson and David Norris – would have had to serve at least three more years before they could even apply for release beyond their current respective sentences of 15 years and 14 years and three months.

In a White Paper published on Wednesday, Mr Buckland will also announce that any offender sentenced to more than four years for serious crimes such as rape, manslaughter and GBH will also have to serve at least two-thirds of their sentence rather than becoming eligible for release at the halfway point.

“No longer will rapists, terrorists or violent thugs be back on our streets after serving just half of their sentence in prison. Instead they serve at least two-thirds behind bars before being released and then strictly monitored,” Mr Buckland writes in his Telegraph article.

He also confirmed The Telegraph’s weekend disclosure that child killers and teenagers who murder, such as the 19-year old Manchester Arena terrorist Hashem Abedi, could die in prison under changes to allow courts to impose whole life tariffs on them.

Gary Dobson (left) and David Norris were convicted in 2012 for the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence Credit:  CPS/PA Wire/ CPS/PA Wire

The White Paper will also seek to prevent criminals who committed murder as children to have their minimum term reviewed, such as Sean Mercer, the killer of Merseyside schoolboy Rhys Jones, a move seen by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) as gaming the system and tormenting victims’ families.

Mr Buckland will also take powers to halt the automatic release of offenders who become radicalised behind bars and pose a danger to the public.

Changes – dubbed Ellie’s law after Ellie Gould, 17, who was killed by her teenage ex-boyfriend, Thomas Griffiths – will increase the current minimum of 12 years jail for teenager murders to two-thirds of the equivalent starting point for adults.

Boris Johnson has already said that the “sensible” reforms would end the “ridiculous state of affairs whereby a criminal can just get back onto the streets even when it’s clear to everybody, including the court, that they pose a threat to justice and a threat to the British public". 

To protect the public, Mr Buckland also announced plans to use GPS electronic tags on released burglars, robbers and thieves for the first time, so their movements can be tracked round-the-clock if they reoffend.

The White Paper will also raise the threshold for passing a sentence below the minimum term for repeat offenders. This would mean a burglar would face an automatic jail sentence of at least three years for a third offence, and a minimum six months in jail for a second knife offence.

The proposed longer sentences will, however, be balanced by new laws to help ex-offenders find jobs after prison by wiping lower level offences from their slates if they remain crime-free for seven years. 

Offenders jailed for four or more years are currently required to tell any prospective employer of their criminal record for the rest of their lives.

Under the White Paper, they will no longer have to do so if they stay clean for seven years after completing four or more years in jail for offences such as burglary, theft and drug dealing.

Violent, sexual and terrorist offences will be excluded.

Mr Buckland asked: “How can it be right that a 40-year-old with one conviction when they were 18, who has served their time, can't get a job despite living a life that is long since free of crime?”

For lower-level crimes, the White Paper will also propose stricter community sentences, with greater use of GPS tags, diversion of addicts into treatment programmes, and a doubling in curfew restrictions to two years for more serious criminals released into the community.