Minimum age for whole life sentences "low down" on list of priorities for criminal justice system, claims Sheffield MP

Sheffield MP Louise Haigh has said allowing judges to impose whole life sentences for 18-year-olds is "low down" on the list of issues faced by the criminal justice system.

Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, Louise Haigh

Labour MP Ms Haigh, who is former Shadow Policing Minister, said the system already faced a backlog of cuts and "undermining".

It followed news that current Justice Secretary Robert Buckland announced proposals to reduce the minimum age for whole life orders from 21 to 18 for exceptional cases such as mass murders by terrorists.

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The issue has arisen after Hashem Abedi, who was complicit in the bombing and murder of 22 people at Manchester Arena, was jailed last month to a record sentence of 55 years.

Proposals have been made to lower the minimum age for whole life sentences from 21 to 18. Picture: Adobe Stock

The judge in the case was unable to jail the 23-year-old for life without release as he was under the age of 21 at the time of the attack.

Whole life orders are rarely imposed in England and Wales but are reserved for the worst-level offending involving calculated murders, terror attacks and extreme sexual violence.

Jailing Abedi at the Old Bailey in August, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said: "If the defendant, like his brother, had been aged 21 or over when he committed these offences of murder the appropriate starting point would have been a whole life order, not only because of the combination of the substantial degree of premeditation and planning involved in these murders but also because the motivation for them was to advance the ideological cause of Islamism; a matter distinct from and abhorrent to the vast majority of those who follow the Islamic faith."

Speaking to Sky's Sophy Ridge yesterday (Sunday), Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Ms Haigh said increasing sentences for younger terrorist offenders was “quite low down the list” of issues pressing the criminal justice system.

Hashem Abedi, jailed for 55 years for the murder and attempted murder of people at Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017. Picture: GMP

“We’ll review the law when it comes forward and we’ll consider whether or not to support it then.

“And, you know, I hope that Robert Buckland addresses this later, I think what is important to note is that the criminal justice system is in complete disarray because of years of cuts, of privatisation of the probation system and of undermining of the courts and of the police.

“So, you know, there are many issues with the Criminal Justice System, the length of sentencing is quite low down the list of issues that faces it at the moment.”

England and Wales currently faces a major backlog of court cases and trials waiting to be heard following adjournments during the height of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year.

Mr Buckland said on Sunday: “This week I will unveil the most radical reforms to sentencing in almost 20 years.

“From longer jail time for dangerous criminals to new measures to improve rehabilitation and cut re-offending – we are delivering a system that is more equipped than ever to crack down on crime, which the public can have confidence in to keep them safe.”

A White Paper is expected to be published mid-week before legislation is laid before Parliament in the new year.