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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 1122 (QB)         Ref Number: 2004/1076/MTR 


Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 2/6/08    




1. This is an application under schedule 22 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. I have considered written representations made on behalf of the applicant, John David Guise Cannan and received on 4 January 2005.
2. The applicant is an “existing prisoner” within the meaning of schedule 22. On 28 April 1989 he was convicted of murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial judge recommended that he spend the rest of his life in prison. The then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, noted that the applicant should spend a minimum of 35 years in prison “but he will probably never be safe to release”. On the 27 September 1994, the applicant was notified that the Secretary of State agreed with the judicial view and set the applicant’s tariff at 35 years.
3. 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 35 years. In considering that application, I must have regard to the seriousness of the offence of murder that the applicant committed. I must have regard to the general principles set out in schedule 21 of the 2003 Act and also to the recommendation made to the Home Secretary by the trial Judge and by the Lord Chief Justice, referred to above.
4. 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, provided I am satisfied that, if he had been so sentenced, the length of his sentence would have been treated as reduced by a particular period under that section; therefore the court takes account of any period that a person has spent in custody only because he was committed to custody by an order of the court made in connection with proceedings relating to the murder. I am satisfied that here I should have regard to a period spent in custody on remand of 17 months and 17 days.
5. The applicant was born on 20 February 1954. He had two minor convictions when, on 26 June 1981, at Birmingham Crown Court, he pleaded guilty to one offence of rape and two offences of robbery. He was sentenced to 5 years for the rape and 3 years consecutive for the robberies.
6. Within a few weeks of the applicant’s release from this lengthy spell of imprisonment, he committed a series of violent sex crimes, including the murder for which the life sentence was imposed. These crimes involved three different women. The first, Helen Barrow, was a married woman alone in her parked car at about midnight. The applicant threatened her with a knife and she submitted, in terror, to be driven to a lonely spot where he forced her to have oral intercourse. He then raped her and, after an interval buggered her. Shortly afterwards, the second woman, Julia Holman, was threatened by the applicant with a gun while she was getting into her parked car. Fortunately for her, the attempted kidnap failed.
7. The third victim, Shirley Banks, was not so lucky. The night after the applicant’s failed attempt to kidnap Julia Holman, she was abducted by the applicant. Her body was not found until 6 months later. Her head had been battered in. The evidence demonstrated that the applicant had overpowered her, then raped her and subsequently murdered her. It was this last offence which led to the imposition of the life sentence and the 35 year tariff.
8. Under paragraph 5 of schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act, the appropriate starting point in any case of murder involving sexual or sadistic conduct is 30 years. There can be no doubt that the murder of Shirley Banks involved violent sexual conduct on the part of the applicant. The starting point under the 2003 Act for determining the minimum term in his case would therefore be 30 years.
9. It is also appropriate to look at the aggravating factors set out in paragraph 10 of schedule 21 and the mitigating factors set out at paragraph 11. As to the aggravating factors it is clear that there are a number of such factors applicable to the applicant’s murder of Shirley Banks. There was a significant degree of planning and pre-meditation; there was extensive mental and physical suffering inflicted on the victim before her death; and there is the fact that her body was concealed for 6 months. All of those factors would serve to increase the minimum term to the 35 years identified above.
10. Contrary to the submissions provided on behalf of the applicant, I consider there are no real mitigating factors at all. Indeed, I note that, although the evidence against the applicant was overwhelming, and he chose not to give evidence in his own defence, he maintained, and still maintains, that he did not commit the murder. In those circumstances, it is impossible for this court to conclude that there are any significant mitigating factors which can affect the determination of the minimum term. However, for the reasons noted above, I consider that it is appropriate to order that the period of 17 months, 17 days, being the time which the applicant spent on remand prior to conviction, should count towards the 35 year minimum term.
11. The applicant sought an oral hearing. In accordance with the decision of the Divisional Court in Hammond [2004] EWHC (Admin) 2753, such oral hearings will only be granted in rare and unusual cases. There is nothing in the written submissions provided by the applicant which identifies any such circumstances. In particular, I reject the suggestion made on behalf of the applicant that an oral hearing is necessary “in order to establish the exact facts”; that enquiry took place at the trial in April 1989, at which the applicant chose not to give evidence. No grounds are made out for any oral hearing now.
12. There is a suggestion in the submissions provided on behalf of the applicant that the widespread media interest in the applicant’s original trial, and the suggested link between the applicant and the disappearance of Susie Lamplugh (to which reference was made in passing in the trial Judge’s report to the Lord Chief Justice) were somehow factors in the determination of the 35 year minimum term. There is nothing in the papers which supports those suggestions. In any event, for the reasons which I have explained above, the 35 years remains the correct tariff for the murder of Shirley Banks, the murder for which the applicant was convicted.
13. The papers also contain references to the applicant’s good progress in prison. I have considered and made allowance for this, although I do not believe it can properly be described as exceptional. I note that the applicant has been the subject of 12 adjudications in 17 years, although none in the last 5 years. In all the circumstances, it is not possible for me to conclude that there should be any reduction in the tariff solely as a result of his conduct in prison, particularly given the absence of any offence-related work.
14. For the reasons set out above, the minimum term that this applicant must serve is 35 years. I order that the 17 months and 17 days he spent on remand prior to his conviction should count towards that 35 year minimum term.                           

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