The changes to the law being made by the Ministry of Justice will mean that judges will start by considering a whole life term when deciding the sentence for killing either a police or prison officer in the course of their duty. This is an increase from the current starting point of a 30-year minimum term. Judges would retain the discretion to determine the appropriate sentence in each case - a whole life term will not be mandatory.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:
Police officers play a vital role in keeping communities safe. As has been tragically demonstrated in recent years, this role is a dangerous one which can lead to officers paying the ultimate price while serving their community.
On a daily basis, prison officers are also asked to protect the public by dealing with violent offenders and standing in the way of criminals in order to keep the peace.
It is essential that police and prison officers feel the full weight of the state is behind them as they fulfil their crucial duties. Changing the starting point for this offence sends a clear message that the Government supports the work that these vital public servants play.
The measure is being introduced by amendment to the Criminal Justice & Courts Bill, which includes a wide range of tough sentencing measures, including plans to:
Make criminals contribute towards the costs of running the courts system by imposing a new charge at the point of conviction.
Introduce a new offence with a punishment of up to two years in prison for criminals who go on the run while serving the non-custodial element of their sentence.
End the automatic half-way point release for criminals convicted of rape or attempted rape of a child, or serious terrorism offences, and no longer automatically releasing offenders who receive the tough Extended Determinate Sentence (EDS) two-thirds of the way through their custodial term.
Stop criminals receiving cautions for serious offences, and for less serious offences stop them receiving a second caution for the same, or similar, offence committed in a two-year period.
Notes to editors
A life sentence is mandatory on conviction for murder. The sentencing court must assess the seriousness of all cases in order to determine the appropriate minimum term to be imposed. The minimum term is the period which the offender must serve in prison for the purposes of punishment and deterrence before being considered for possible release by the Parole Board.
There is statutory guidance to the courts setting out the principles to which it must have regard when determining the appropriate minimum term. The guidance sets out four starting points for adult offenders and gives examples of the type of case which would fall into these categories. Currently, the murder of a police or prison officer in the course of duty has a starting point of a minimum term of 30 years.
The court chooses the appropriate starting point and then considers any additional aggravating or mitigating factors in the particular case before arriving at the final sentence, which may be higher or lower than the starting point.