Cymraeg | Access Keys | Site Map | Feedback
Legal / Professional
Advanced search

Minimum terms

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

<< Back


Neutral Citation Number: [2007] EWHC 721 (QB)

Case No: 2004/1041/MTR

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 2 April 2007

Before :



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -




The Honourable Mr Justice Owen :
1. On 29 October 1999 Stephen Robert Unwin was convicted of the murder of John Greenwell.  He was 20 years of age at the date of the offence, 21 when convicted.
2. The deceased was 73 years of age, and was suffering from a terminal disease.  As he lay in his bed late on 24 December 1998, or in the early hours of Christmas Day, the applicant broke into his bungalow with the intention of stealing.  He battered the deceased around the head with a blunt instrument, probably a camera, causing fractures to the skull and fatal injury to the brain.  He then stabbed the deceased through the chest with a knife, another fatal wound.  The applicant took a television set and a video recorder.  He transported the television set in a dustbin to his home which was not far away and returned to pick up the video.  Before leaving he set fire to the body of the deceased and to the bungalow.  He was then stopped near his home with the video by a police patrol.  He gave an explanation which they accepted, but they then came upon the fire in the deceased’s bungalow, and about an hour later, having noted the absence of both a television set and video recorder, went to the applicant’s house.  He was watching a horror video when the police arrived, and as they searched the premises engaged an officer in animated conversation about it.
3. In his report to the Home Secretary the trial judge made the following observation:
“The murder was particularly cold blooded and gratuitously violent.  The arson was a second serious offence within a short period.”
He recommended a tariff period of 15 years.  The Lord Chief Justice recommended a term of 14 years on grounds of the applicant’s youth and his plea of guilty.
4. Notwithstanding his plea of guilty the applicant sought leave to appeal against conviction on the grounds that he did not mean to plead guilty and was coerced into so doing by the advice given by his legal team and by two members of his family.  His renewed application for leave to appeal was dismissed on 21 February 2001.  In giving the judgment of the court Ouseley J observed that:
“20.  In our judgment, there is nothing whatever to support the contention that the applicant’s will was overborne.  First of all, from the material which we have already rehearsed it was plain that there was an overwhelming case against him, and his story that he had not been at the premises, had not participated in the burglary and had not struck any blows was one which was plainly incredible.  It was a story that called for clear and firm advice.”
5. On 16 August 2001 the applicant was notified in writing by the Secretary of State that he had decided to set the tariff at 14 years. 
6. The applicant now applies to the court under the provisions of paragraph 3 of schedule 22 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.  I have to decide whether I should order that the early release provisions under the 2003 Act should apply to him after a shorter period than 14 years.  It is not open to me to order that they should apply after a longer period.
7. In considering this application I must have regard to the seriousness of the offence of murder that the applicant committed, and in so doing, I must have regard to the general principles set out in schedule 21 of the Act and also to the recommendation made to the Secretary of State by the trial judge and by the Lord Chief Justice as to the minimum term to be served by the applicant before release on licence.
8. I am also to have regard to the effect that section 67 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 would have had if the applicant had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, and should therefore, where appropriate, give credit for time spent on remand in consequence of his having been committed to custody by an order of the court made in connection with proceedings relating to the murder.  I am satisfied that in this case I should have regard to a period spent in custody on remand of 308 days. 
9. Written representations have been submitted by the applicant’s legal advisor in support of his application.  They have also submitted a report from a consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr David Somekh dated 28 October 2004.
10. I do not consider that the case falls within paragraphs 4 or 5 of schedule 21 of the 2003 Act.  The starting point in determining the minimum term is therefore 15 years.  The offence was aggravated by the fact that the victim was particularly vulnerable given his age and medical condition.  The learned sentencing judge also took into account as an aggravating feature that “the arson was a second serious offence within a short period.”  That was an offence committed in 1992, when the applicant was 14.  The offence involved stealing a radio from a lorry and then setting fire to the lorry.  But it is asserted on his behalf that it was his co-defendant who set fire to the lorry, and that would appear to be borne out by the light sentence imposed upon the applicant, namely a requirement to attend an attendance centre for 24 hours.  I am therefore satisfied that it would not be appropriate to take account of that offence as an aggravating factor.  But a further aggravating feature of the offence was the attempt to avoid detection by setting fire to the body and to the deceased’s bungalow. 
11. There were a number of mitigating factors.  I accept that the offence was committed in the course of an opportunistic burglary, and that there was no pre-meditation.  Furthermore I accept that he did not know that the property was occupied when he entered.  Secondly the applicant has from the outset shown deep remorse for causing the death of the deceased.  By his plea of guilty he accepted full responsibility, although the force of that argument is undermined to a degree by the unsuccessful attempt to appeal against his conviction.  The final mitigating factor is his youth, 20 at the date of the offence.
12. It is submitted on behalf of the applicant that his prison record amounts to a further mitigating factor.  Whilst unquestionably laudable, his progress in prison is not so exceptional that it should be taken into account in determining the minimum term.  His progress in prison will no doubt be taken into account when in due course the parole board considers his release on parole. 
13. Finally I take account of the fact that in the case of an offence committed before 31 May 2002 I must also take account of the guidance set out by Lord Bingham of Cornhill CJ in his practice direction dated 10 February 1997.  His practice was then to take 14 years as the period actually to be served for the ‘average’, ‘normal’ or ‘unexceptional’ murder.  In my judgment the aggravating features that I have identified would have justified a minimum term of 16 years, but taking account of the mitigating factors, in particular the age of the applicant and of his plea of guilty I have come to the conclusion that the appropriate tariff is one of 12 years. 
14. The period for which the applicant was held in custody on remand of 308 days must be taken into account and the early release provisions will therefore apply to the applicant when he has served 11 years and 57 days.
15. The minimum term is the minimum amount of time that the applicant 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 applicant will continue to be detained after that date.  When the applicant has served the minimum term, and if the parole board decides to direct his release, he will remain on licence for the rest of his life and may be recalled to prison at any time if in breach of his parole.


^ Top
This page was last updated on 24 November 2006 11:58. Web team.
Contact us . Terms and conditions .