Teenage killers are to face longer jail sentences, under reforms announced by the justice secretary, Robert Buckland.
Older teenagers in murder cases could see sentences almost doubled to up to 27 years.
‘Ellie’s law’ comes as part of wider criminal reforms which were introduced to Parliament on 9 March 2021. Ellie’s law follows a campaign by the parents of murdered teenager, Ellie Gould. Ellie was strangled then stabbed 13 times at her family home by 17 year old Thomas Griffiths.
Griffiths was sentenced to life in prison in 2019 and ordered to serve a minimum of 12 and a half years.
Although he was 18 by the time he was sentenced to a minimum of 12-and-a-half years in prison, his age at the time of the crime was a factor in the minimum jail term he could face.
Adults found guilty of murder typically face 15 years in prison, or double this for the most serious cases, such as killing a police officer, murders for financial gain, killings involving sexual misconduct and hate crimes.
Judges have discretionary powers to adjust the sentence based on the facts and circumstances of the case, such as reducing the sentence in light of a guilty plea.
For under 18s, the sentencing tariff for murder starts at 12 years.
The proposals are expected to see a new sliding scale for child, with 10 to 14 years olds facing minimum starting points of 50 per cent of the adult punishment; 15 and 16-year-olds would face 66 per cent and 17-year-olds 90 per cent.
The right to a halfway review of sentences is also to be abolished for 17-year-old killers who, like Griffiths, reach 18 by the time of sentencing, as well as the right to two-yearly reviews for under-18s.
Buckland has also stated he would consider lengthening sentences for spur-of-the-moment killings with weapons.
The starting tariff for knife killers is 25 years but this harsher penalty requires the murderer to have taken the weapon to the scene with intent to kill.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
New laws to reform sentencing, the courts and offender management include:
- Whole life Orders for the premeditated murder of a child as well as allowing judges to hand out this maximum punishment to 18 to 20-year olds in exceptional cases to reflect the gravity of a crime. For example, acts of terrorism which lead to mass loss of life.
- New powers to halt the automatic early release of offenders who pose a danger to the public.
- For children who commit murder, introducing new starting points for deciding the minimum amount of time in custody based on age and seriousness of offence, and reducing the opportunities for over 18s who committed murder as a child to have their minimum term reviewed.
- Ending the halfway release of offenders sentenced to between four and seven years in prison for serious violent and sexual offences such as rape, manslaughter and GBH with intent. Instead they will have to spend two-thirds of their time behind bars.
- Changing the threshold for passing a sentence below the minimum term for repeat offenders, including key serious offences such as ‘third strike’ burglary which carries a minimum three-year custodial sentence and ‘two strike’ knife possession which has a minimum 6-month sentence for adults, making it less likely that a court will depart from theses minimum terms.
- Reforming criminal records disclosure to reduce the time period people have to declare previous non-violent, sexual or terrorist convictions to employers – covering both adult and youth offences.
- Introducing life sentences for killer drivers.
- Tougher community sentences which double the amount of time offenders can be subject to curfew restrictions to 2 years.
- Extended ‘positions of trusts’ laws to protect teenagers from abuse by making it illegal for sports coaches and religious leaders from engaging in sexual activity with 16 and 17-year-olds.
- New rules to end the need for participants to travel unnecessarily to court by allowing criminal courts to maximise the use of video and audio technology as it develops.
- Enshrining open justice principles by allowing for remote observers – using video and audio technology – across the vast majority of our courts and tribunals improving public access and transparency.
- For the first time enabling profoundly deaf people to sit on juries. Current laws ban the presence of a ‘stranger’ being in the jury deliberation room – this will be scrapped and instead allow a British Sign Language Interpreter into the room.
- Increasing the maximum penalty for criminal damage of a memorial from 3 months to 10 years.
- Stronger youth community sentencing options, including greater use of location monitoring and longer daily curfews, providing robust alternatives to custody.