When someone is sentenced to a life sentence (automatic, arising from murder conviction, or discretionary where the maximum sentence is life) the judge must set a tariff.
Setting the tariff
In contrast to a ‘normal’ determinate sentence (e.g. 10 years), release provisions dont apply. A 10 year sentence will result in 5 years in prison and 5 years on licence. A life sentence with a minimum term of 10 years will result in 10 years minimum in prison. Therefore, a life sentence with a minimum term of 10 years, is equivalent to a 20-year ‘normal’ sentence.
The tariff is the minimum term which must be served before the prisoner can be considered for release. When the tariff has expired, the prison is entitled to ask the parole board to be considered for release. They may never be released.
The parole board are concerned with a different question to that faced by the sentencing judge.
The test for the parole board is whether it is “satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined” (Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 s 28)
Released life sentence prisoners are subject to a life licence which remains in force for the duration of their natural life and may be recalled to prison at any time to continue serving their life sentence if it is considered necessary to protect the public.