Jail terms for murder have been too lenient for around 50 years

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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On an ITV leaders’ election debate last night, Nigel Farage said something that was spot on about sentencing.

Both the Conservatives and Labour were responsible for weak prison sentencing, going back 40 years. If anything he understated the problem, because it is at least half a century since jail terms became soft.

The death penalty was abolished in the 1960s, but for decades ‘life sentences’, which automatically apply for murder, have meant an actual ‘tariff’ (time spent in prison before parole is possible) of fewer than 15 years, and often as little as 12.

This is grievous insult to the victim, who never gets to live another moment after their attacker kills them.

Sentencing in Northern Ireland is as weak as it is in the rest of the UK (albeit currently subject to a review).

The fact that Usman Kkan, the Islamic fanatic who murdered two Cambrige students in London, had been released after half of his 16 year sentence for being a threat to the public should be of no surprise to anyone.

As this editorial column observed days ago, in relation to road killers, the easiest way to look at a serious jail term is to divide it in two, and think of that lower figure as the point after which the guilty person will be free. If such a criminal seems to get a hefty 20 year term, think of it as a 10-year spell.

In the case of the latest London attack, the leniency means two talented young people are now dead.

In this Province, some sentences for the most serious terrorist offences, such as murder, have edged up in recent years, and that is welcome. But this newspaper has chronicled unacceptably weak sentences for lesser terrorist convictions, as well as an alarmingly slack bail policy for people facing serious terror charges.

Across the UK, sentencing for serious criminal offences needs to be radically increased. But that is easily said, particularly by politicians ahead of an election. Will they commit the funds required for the needed extra prison cells?