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Minimum terms

High Court setting of minimum terms for mandatory life sentences under the Criminal Justice Act 2003

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 Case No: 2004/140/MTS  

[2006] EWHC 1555 (QB)
Date_10th July, 2006




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Criminal Justice Act, 2003, Schedule 22
 Judge’s Order under Section 269







McKinnon, J:
1. I am required by section 269 (3) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to set such minimum term as I consider appropriate taking into account the seriousness of the offence. In arriving at that minimum term, there are four steps which I am required to take as the murder here was committed before 18th December 2003.
2. The facts are taken from the report of the trial judge, His Honour Judge Fox, QC to the Home Secretary.  The defendant, suffering from insomnia which made him depressed and desperate, stabbed the deceased, Claire Amy Butters, his nineteen year old wife of only 4 days, seven times in the chest.  He had contemplated suicide on a number of previous occasions and also their joint suicide, the deceased having once dissuaded him and at another time when she may have agreed, the attempt was unsuccessful.
3. The first step is to choose one of three starting points, whole life, 30 years or 15 years. In my judgment, it is appropriate to take the starting point of 15 years.   That is because this case falls within the category of an offence, the seriousness of which is neither exceptionally high nor particularly high within paragraphs 4 (1) or 5 (2) of Schedule 21 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
4. The second step is take account of any aggravating or mitigating factors which would justify a departure from the starting point of 15 years. There are no aggravating features as such.
  The mitigating features are that the defendant has no relevant previous convictions,   that he was in a genuinely loving relationship with the deceased, that, while he had no   psychiatric illness, he suffered from acute insomnia, that he was genuinely remorseful   and that the killing arose probably through internal turmoil and desperation although,   in the end, it was inexplicable.
   I would reduce the starting point by two years by reason of those features thus       arriving at 13 years.    Thus, the starting point is 13 years.
5.  The third step is to deduct from the starting point of 13 years the precise time that the   defendant spent on remand in custody.  That is 5 months and 28 days.   So, in broad   terms, (not being entirely precise) I arrive at a proposed   minimum term in the region   of 12½ years.
6.  The fourth step is to check whether that proposed term is greater than the term which   the Secretary of State would probably have notified under the practice followed by the   Secretary of State before December 2002.  Where, as here, the  murder was committed   before 31st May 2002, the best guide as to what would have been the practice of the   Secretary of State is the letter sent to judges by Lord  Bingham, CJ on 10th February   1997. Following the practice of Lord Bingham, I take as the first step the period     actually to be served for the  “average”, “normal” or “unexceptional” murder as 14   years.  The next and final step is to look at the factors capable of mitigating the normal   penalty and the factors likely to call for a sentence more severe than the norm.   Here,   there are no aggravating factors and the mitigating factors are as set out in paragraph 4   above. I therefore arrive at a minimum term of 12 years.
7. Accordingly, I set the minimum term that the defendant must serve before the  Parole Board can consider his release on licence as one of 12 years. That is the  recommendation made by both the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice. It is a  recommendation that I agree with.  That minimum term is the minimum amount of  time the defendant will spend in prison, from the date of sentence, before the  Parole Board can order early release.  If it remains necessary for the protection of  the  public, the defendant will continue to be detained after that date.  Where the  defendant  has served the minimum term and the Parole Board has decided to direct release, the  defendant will remain on licence for the rest of his life and may  be recalled to prison at  any time.

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