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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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Neutral Citation Number: [2007] EWHC 858 (QB)

Case No: 2004/1065/MTR

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
Date: 12/07/2007

Before :

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Between :

                                     - and - 
 Muhammed Musdassir Ali 





Mr Justice Field:
1. On 13 August 1999 the applicant, Muhammed Mudassir Ali, was convicted of the murder of his wife, Sufia Begum, following a trial presided over by the then Recorder of Manchester, HHJ Rhys Davies QC. The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment and the trial judge recommended that he serve a minimum of a little below 12 years. The then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, endorsed this recommendation. On 29 October 2001 the defendant was notified by the Home Secretary that his tariff (minimum term) had been set at 12 years.
2. The applicant now applies under s. 276 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (“the 2003 Act”) and paragraph 3 (1) of Schedule 22 to that Act to have determined afresh the minimum term he must serve before he can be released on licence pursuant to a recommendation of the Parole Board. The applicant has not applied for an oral hearing and I propose to determine his application without receiving oral representations since I am quite satisfied that such a hearing is not required to secure to the applicant his rights under the Human Rights Act 1998.
3. In making this determination I have considered all the papers put before me including all of the material sent under cover of the applicant’s letter of 10 May 2007, the trial judge’s original recommendation, the psychiatric reports of Dr Mulligan and Dr Daly, the report of Dr Ballard dated 27 July 1999, the applicant’s tariff representations submitted in August 2001, the applicant’s representations made in support of the instant application and numerous documents showing the applicant’s excellent progress in prison.
4. The facts relating to the murder of Sufia Begum are these. The applicant was in an unhappy, unconsummated, arranged marriage. On 7 November 1998 following an argument with his wife that started over some burnt garlic he struck her a number of times with a very heavy cutting implement known as a daa. He landed at least six blows, mainly in the region of the back of the head and neck. One of the blows virtually severed the victim’s left arm which she was using to defend herself. A later blow nearly decapitated her, severing her spinal cord. The applicant then hid the body and fled turning up eventually in London where he gave himself up. The applicant maintained that his wife and her family had carried on a campaign of belittlement against him involving, amongst other things, assault, criticism of his appearance and the removal of his passport.
5. At trial the applicant admitted killing his wife unlawfully. The issues for the jury were provocation and diminished responsibility based on moderate to severe depression. The jury decided that they were sure that there was neither provocation nor diminished responsibility. The trial judge’s view was that the jury disbelieved the applicant’s account of his symptoms; if he had not exaggerated his complaints he might have received a more sympathetic hearing from the jury.
6. Pursuant to paragraph 4 of Schedule 22 to the 2003 Act, when fixing the minimum term the court must have regard to the seriousness of the offence and in doing so must have regard to: (i) the length of the notified minimum term; (iii) the general principles set out in Schedule 21; and (iii) any recommendation made to the Secretary of State by the trial judge or the Lord Chief Justice as to the length of the minimum term to be served by the offender before release on licence. Further, the court cannot fix a minimum term of a greater duration than the notified minimum term.
7. Pursuant to paragraph 6 of Schedule 21, the starting point for the minimum term in this case is 15 years. The next step is to consider what increase (if any) there should be for aggravating factors. Paragraph 10 sets out a non-exhaustive list of such factors. Included in that list is “mental or physical suffering inflicted on the victim before death”. In my opinion this factor is present in this case. The injuries inflicted on the victim were truly terrible. As I have said, her left arm was virtually severed whilst she was defending herself and a later blow nearly decapitated her. I must also have regard to the minimum terms of just under 12 years recommended by both the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice and the notified term of 12 years. In my judgement, the starting point before taking into account mitigating factors is 16 years.
8. I turn then to the mitigating factors. In my view these are: (i) the depression which I find the applicant did suffer as a result of his unhappy marriage, albeit that this fell short of amounting to an abnormality of mind; (ii) a degree of provocation falling short of provocation in law; (iii) the applicant’s previous good character; (iv) the applicant’s genuine and profound remorse; (iv) the applicant’s progress in prison. Since the focus of mitigating factors is primarily on those relating to the offence, factor (iv) can only be given limited weight.  Taking all of the factors into account I think that the minimum term under Schedule 21 is reduced to 13 ½  years.
9. As I have said, the court cannot specify a minimum term that exceeds that notified by the Home Secretary. It follows that the minimum term in this case will be 12 years less an allowance for the time spent by the applicant on remand. The difference between the minimum term under Schedule 21 and that notified is almost certainly due to the increased starting point of 15 years specified in the Schedule compared with the 14 year starting point that applied in 1999.
10. The period on remand was 9 months 2 days. I shall accordingly specify a minimum term of 11 years and 3 months in this case. I make it clear that this does not mean that the applicant will be released after this period. It means that the Parole Board can then release him if they think that it is safe to do so. If he is released, he will remain on licence.


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