THE Home Secretary’s assertion that “life should mean life” for police killers is too late for the families of Ian Broadhurst and Sharon Beshenivsky, two officers gunned down on the streets of West Yorkshire.
Theresa May’s call also offers scant consolation to the relatives of Pcs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, the constables from Greater Manchester shot dead by gangster Dale Cregan last year.
Yet while even most liberals would agree with her sentiments, Mrs May’s greater challenge lies in persuading the criminal justice system to reflect not only the views of the law-abiding majority but the political will of Parliament.
This is a test Mrs May must pass if she is to be taken at her word rather than being accused of using the Home Secretary’s annual address to the Police Federation to divert attention away from Tory turmoil over Europe.
For, while she was adamant about her intentions, the proposal still has to be approved by the Sentencing Council, a body that is charged with preventing political interference in the judicial process. There are no guarantees here.
Two other caveats are also required. First, the Home Secretary needs to appreciate the hurt suffered by the families of other murder victims. They will argue, with some justification, that the killers of their loved ones should also be made the subject of the whole-life tariff that Mrs May now advocates for those who murder police officers. As the Sentencing Council and others will argue, policy needs to be applied fairly to all sections of society.
Second, many of the controversies surrounding the early release of criminals would be avoided if there was a closer correlation between the sentence passed by the courts and the actual amount of time spent in prison.
Take the recent speeding case involving Mrs May’s former Cabinet colleague Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce. Was it right that they both served just a quarter of the eight-month prison sentence imposed on them? As such, it would be in the wider public interest if any changes to the law were accompanied by a greater onus being placed on magistrates and judges to pass minimum sentences so the victims of crime, and their families, know exactly where they stand.