This morning, 11 December 2013, the BBC News website published an article by Jon Kelly seeking to explain the reason why three men convicted of murder received mandatory life sentences with wildly different minimum terms.
The three cases
Lee James: 18 years
Rakesh Bhayani: 27 years
Anxiang Du: 40 years
We are of course wholly in favour of greater public legal education, particularly the explanation of criminal cases featuring in the news (indeed, we have been doing it for over a year). This piece provides a good, brief, explanation of each of the sentencing decisions, with a couple of comments from two esteemed practitioners and an esteemed academic.
As a part of the article, Jon Kelly sought to explain how the starting points for the calculation of minimum terms in murder cases are calculated (while we’re at it, here is our fact sheet).
Getting the law a bit wrong
The problem is, Jon Kelly gets the law slightly wrong. Here, he states that the starting points for life apply to offenders aged 21+
There are three problems.
The starting points – who do they apply to?
Firstly, the Sch 21 starting points apply only to murder convictions. Jon states they apply ‘to life’. There are four types of life sentence available to the courts in England and Wales. These starting points only apply to mandatory life sentences imposed for murder.
Secondly, the starting points differ depending on the age of the offender. The correct explanation is as follows:
Whole life: Only available for those 21+
30 years: Available for those 18+
25 years: Available for those 18+
15 years: Available for those 18+
12 years: The only starting point for offenders aged under 18
[See Criminal Justice Act 2003 Sch 21 paras 4, 5, 5A, 6 and 7] The explanation as to which starting point applies to which case (e.g. bringing a knife or other weapon to the scene, 25 years) was correct.
And thirdly, that he fails to state that the offender’s age is at the time of the offence, not conviction or sentence.
In a post seeking to explain the law, getting the law wrong is not a great start (though we applaud the desire to improve public understanding).
For the future, if the BBC wanted to have such articles etc. checked pre-publication, we would be more than willing to do so. Just drop us an email. What a service!