Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22 have been convicted of the murder of Lee Rigby (but not guilty of the attempted murder of a police officer). We had a quick look previously at the case, but because the incident is still ongoing, we did not go into too much detail.
The mandatory sentence for murder is one of life imprisonment (see here for a factsheet on this). The question is how long the ‘tariff’ will be.
Looking at the guidelines, this is “a murder done for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause” and therefore the starting point is a whole life tariff.
The trial Judge is Sweeny J, who was the sentencing judge for Ian McGloughlin. He, of course, ruled that a whole life tariff was unlawful and therefore he could not impose one (see here for some discussion of this).
If Sweeny J sticks to that, then there will still be a very long tariff. I would have a guess at 50 years, but we shall watch it with interest.
What was the defence?
The defence seems to have been that they were ‘Soldiers of Allah’ and therefore acting lawfully. For a killing in English war to be murder it has to be ‘under the Queen’s Peace’ – in other words not during a war.
The defendants stated that there was a war, with the killing being a military operation, and therefore they could not be guilty of murder.
The Judge however ruled (completely unsurprisingly) that this could not, in law, amount to a defence.
Why was there a trial then?
This has been the focus of much discussion. The law is simple. In England in a trial at the Crown Court the decision on guilt and innocence can only be taken by a jury.
A Judge does not have the power to direct a guilty verdict. He can tell the jury that there is no defence, but even if that is the case, the jury still has the final decision (see here for our post on Jury Nullification which explains this in more detail).
Whilst this may seem strange, this is an important constitutional protection for us citizens. It offers the last line of protection against arbitrary power and unfair laws.
So, whilst in this case it seems like a waste of time and money, they had an absolute right to have this trial, even if it looked to many that they were making an unmeritorious political point.
Another reason (that may well not have been a consideration in this case) is that there is, generally, less point in pleading guilty to murder as opposed to other offences, for reasons that we explained here.