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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:  2004/187/MTS
Neutral Citation Number:  [2006] EWHC 645   (QB)

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

11th April, 2006


Before :

The Hon. Mr Justice Hedley

Between :











1. On 25th February 2002 the Defendant was convicted of the murder of Peter Burnett on 27th August 2001 after a trial before His Honour Judge Peter Crawford Q.C. and a Jury sitting in the Crown Court at Oxford.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment.  In due course the trial judge submitted a report recommending a minimum period of 12 years.  On 17th April, 2002 the Lord Chief Justice amended that recommendation to 11 years.  That period fell to be reduced by the time spent in custody on remand, namely 5 months and 25 days.

2 The court is now required to set the minimum term pursuant to Sections 269 and 276 together with Schedules 21 and 22 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.  The court has received carefully formulated written representations on behalf of the Defendant although (rightly) no oral hearing is sought.  It has also received those mentioned in paragraph 7 below.

3    Although the Court must exercise its judgment as to the minimum period to be served pursuant to Section 269 and Schedule 21 of the Act, this case is governed by the transitional provisions in Section 276 and Schedule 22.  In applying these I must act in accordance with the principles set out by the Court of Appeal in SULLIVAN & OTHERS [2005] 1 Crim.App.R.(S) 308 namely that the Defendant must not be exposed to greater risk of punishment now than that to which he was liable at the date of the offence.  Following SULLIVAN  I am satisfied that this was a case where the Home Secretary would have accepted the recommendation of the Lord Chief Justice.  Accordingly I cannot prescribe any minimum term that would exceed this recommendation.

4 The background to this offence was sadly all too familiar.  The Defendant was a young man of 24.  He had no previous convictions although there were two charges outstanding.  He had built himself a stable life with girlfriend, child and employment.  That relationship broke up and the Defendant sought solace in drink, his life disintegrated and he became a type 1 alcoholic.  On the day in question he had been drinking heavily in a public house.  The deceased was a single man aged 35 who was at that time working away from home.  He too was in the same public house and subsequent analysis demonstrated that he too had had much to drink on that evening.  Some inconsequential argument occurred between the men which appeared to have been wholly resolved by the time that they came to leave the premises.

5 The verdict of the Jury demonstrates that on leaving the premises the Defendant launched a violent attack (with fists and feet) on the deceased inflicting injury from which he sadly died the following day.  The Defendant raised help and remained at the scene.  Although he raised self defence (which the Jury clearly rejected), he always accepted that he had caused the death and accepted a degree of culpability for it.

6 I turn then to Section 269 and Schedule 21 of the Act. The starting point in this case (pursuant to paragraph 6 of the Schedule) is 15 years.  None of the aggravating features set out in paragraph 10 are present in this case.  There are, however, a number of mitigating features as envisaged in paragraph 11.  There was evidently no intention to kill (none was asserted by the Prosecution) and no premeditation beyond the momentary.  Moreover, regard must be had to his background and (to a limited extent) to his progress in custody.  All these matters taken together require the court to make a significant reduction from the starting point of 15 years.

7 I have also read with care the statements from the deceased’s mother, two brothers and sister.  Unsurprisingly this dreadful event has had a profound impact on the family; equally unsurprisingly, there is much anger directed to the perpetrator of this crime.  The difficulty is that although the degree of culpability in the offender may vary from case to case, the impact on the victim’s family usually does not.  The duty of the court in setting the minimum term is principally to reflect the culpability of this offender.

8 Although I am satisfied that a significant reduction has to be made from the statutory notional starting point of  15 years, I am also satisfied that that reduction would not lead to a term less than that recommended by the Lord Chief Justice.  Accordingly I determine the minimum term to be served as 11 years less the 5 months 25 days spent in custody on remand.



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