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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: [2008] EWHC 1612 (QB)

Case No: 2005/96/MTR
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 31/07/2008

Before :

MR JUSTICE MACKAY
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Between :

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 Jason Walter Prentice 

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Hearing dates: 14th – 17th February 2000
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Approved Judgment
I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.


.............................

MR JUSTICE MACKAY


 
Mr Justice Mackay:
 
1. Jason Walter Prentice is an existing prisoner who was convicted of two counts of murder on 17th February 2000.  He applies for a review of the minimum term notified by the Secretary of State in his case.
2. The defendant was convicted of murdering Jane Phipps, a woman with whom he was in a friendly relationship, and Steven Keyes who was Jane Phipps’s boyfriend.  On the evening of the murders the defendant his wife and Jane Phipps had been together in a public house.  There had been a disagreement which led to friction between the defendant and his wife, for which it seems the defendant held Jane Phipps responsible.
3. Later that evening the defendant sought out Jane Phipps and her boyfriend who lived in separate accommodation in the same block of flats.  He stabbed them both to death and then tried to raise money to make good his escape.  He was arrested the following day but claimed not to be able to remember whether he was responsible for the deaths.
4. At the trial he accepted that he was responsible for their deaths but asserted that he was suffering from diminished responsibility.  The jury rejected that defence and convicted him on the two counts of murder.
5. The court heard medical evidence which indicated that the defendant was suffering from severe alcoholism at the time of the murders, had a violent temper and was prone to impulsive behaviour.  There was also evidence that he had attracted a diagnosis of ADHD as a child.
6. The trial judge pointed out that the jury took a very short time to reject the medical defence.  He described this act as the “cold blooded killing of two wholly innocent victims.  There was no element of provocation whatsoever”. The defendant demonstrated no signs of remorse.  He recommended a minimum term of 16 years and the Lord Chief Justice of the day agreed with that.
7. On the 3rd October 2001 the Secretary of State set the tariff figure at 20 years.  He said that he was not accepting the trial judge’s recommendation because he did not consider that it was sufficient to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence.  He said that he had “attached weight to the fact that there were two victims and to the trial judges description of the killings as cold blooded”
8. The defendant has applied to have that tariff figure reviewed.  He has not requested an oral hearing and I do not consider it necessary to hold an oral hearing in order to carry out this review.
9. The representations made in support of the review tell me that there are now mental health issues concerning the defendant, who has experienced psychotic phenomena in terms of auditory and visual hallucinations and other symptoms.  These were said to have significantly decreased with medication.  At the time of the application he was at Rampton Hospital under Section 47 of the Mental Health Act.
10. There is no victim impact statement as such but the grandmother of the first deceased Jane Phipps has been visited by a victim liaison officer.   She it was who raised Jane Phipps as her own daughter and she is plainly devastated by her death and has not been able to come to terms with its consequences.
11. I am required to have regard to the general principles which would have been applicable had this sentence been subject to Schedule 21of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.  I am also constrained by Schedule 22(3) of the same act from imposing by way of review a minimum term greater than that notified by the Secretary of State.
12. So far as Schedule 21 is concerned, there is no doubt that this would have been treated as an offence of a particularly high seriousness in the light of the fact that it consisted of the murder of two persons.  There were no aggravating factors within paragraph 10 of that schedule nor were there any mitigating factors under paragraph 11; the only “mental disability” which could argued was alcoholism, which ought not in my judgment to qualify, and his proneness to violence and impulsive behaviour, which were clearly not operative in this case as both these murders were as the trial judge said committed in cold blood and not in the heat of the moment.  Therefore had I been sentencing the defendant under the 2003 Act regime the minimum term would have been in the region of 28-30 years.
13. With respect to both the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice of the day I consider that the period of 16 years for double murder committed in cold blood was too low and that a higher figure was both justified and necessary.  However I consider that the 20 years proposed by the Secretary of State was excessive under the pre 2003 Act regime and that a figure of 18 years would have been appropriate.
14. I therefore direct that the early release provisions shall apply to this life sentence but that the minimum term to be served for the purposes of punishment deterrence and retribution shall be one of 18 years, less 8 months six days spent in custody on remand.


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