WHEN a judge passes a life sentence, the public has every right to think that it means life.
They certainly don’t expect it to last just four years.
Judge Christopher Metcalf handed down a life sentence to a paedophile yesterday then promptly told him he could be out in 2010.
What sort of justice is that?
Jason Hope was on the run from prison when he committed an appalling act of depravity on a 13-year-old schoolboy.
If Judge Metcalf thinks four years is life he’s obviously living in a different world from the rest of us.
One of these days, a judge is going to pass a life sentence which actually means life.
But until more prisons are built and judges get a grip on reality, that’s not going to happen.
And judges like Christopher Metcalf will continue to be living proof the law is an ass.
The judge is obliged, when passing a custodial sentence, to read out a statement explaining how it will work. In the Crown Court where I sometimes sit on appeals the sentencing reasons statement is present in laminated form on each bench. When passing an indeterminate sentence such as life the judge must state the earliest date at which the prisoner can be released, but that does not of course mean that this will be the actual release date. In one recent case that greatly exercised the papers the judge went on to say that the prisoner would not be released until he was felt to present no further danger, and that he might, in fact, never be released. The headline writers ignored that, leaving, as they intended, the impression that a man who had committed an appalling crime would be out in a few years.
The casual insult to the judge in the quoted piece above is just another chip away at respect for the courts, and it isn't just casual, it is unfair and inaccurate.
In its crude and thuggish way the Sun does make one valid point. It is time to end the fiction of calling some sentences 'life' when they are not intended to be anything of the sort. Life is now a technical legal term, so why don't we replace it with something like 'indefinite' or 'indeterminate' or even 'unspecified'? Then we can save the L-word for those sentences that are imposed for the very worst crimes and will very likely leave the criminal inside until he either dies or is rendered so frail by the passage of time that he is no longer a threat to anyone.