HC Deb 25 June 1959 vol 607 c155W
64. Mr. Osborne

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on his policy with regard to reduction of life sentences, with particular reference to the factors he takes into account and the average period of time elapsing before he considers such a reduction; and how many prisoners so sentenced have served, or are serving, for a period of over 20 years.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I have power under Section 27 of the Prison Act, 1952, to release a person sentenced to life imprisonment on licence at any time. Life sentences for homicide are reviewed after the first year and all life sentences after the fourth year and thereafter at intervals of not less than four years.

A person sentenced to life imprisonment may in an extreme case—where, for example, it is necessary for the protection of the public—be kept in prison until he dies. Each case is considered on its merits. The factors taken into account include the circumstances of the offence, the age and character of the offender, the likelihood of his being a danger to the public if he is discharged, and, in the case of non-mandatory life sentences, the level of determinate sentences being imposed by the courts for similar offences. Since 1920 six prisoners serving life sentences have been discharged after serving for 20 years; none has been detained longer. The average period has hitherto been nine years; but this will not necessarily be so in future because prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment will include murderers who, before the Homicide Act, would have been hanged and whose cases present no mitigating features.