5. Mr. Gresham Cooke
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the average length of a term of life imprisonment; and what arrangements he makes for retaining in custody a person convicted of murder beyond the end of a normal term of life imprisonment.
§ 35. Dame Irene Ward
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is his policy with regard to the retention in prison for life of all individuals sentenced to life imprisonment on a capital charge.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
In considering how long it is necessary to detain a prisoner serving a sentence of life imprisonment for murder, I take into account all the circumstances of the offence, the age and character of the offender and his development in detention, and the necessity to protect the public from any prisoner who might be a danger if released. The actual period of detention varies widely, according to the circumstances of the case, from a year or even less, if there are strong compassionate grounds for early release, to twenty years or more in exceptional cases. It has hitherto been nine years in an average case, but it may well be higher in the future in the new circumstances created by the Homicide Act, 1957.
Mr. Gresham Cooke
I thank my right hon. Friend for that sympathetic answer. 1735 As nine years has been the average, will he bear in mind that there are one or two atrocious young men such as Patrick Byrne who have committed terrible crimes in the past who will normally come out of prison in a few years' time as quite young men? They may well want restraining instead of being let loose on the public.
§ Mr. Butler
Yes. This is a heavy responsibility on the Home Secretary, and I will certainly bear all of these factors in mind.