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Lord Judge calls for 'careful reform' of murder laws

6 December 2011

Lord Judge has said a “careful reform” of the law on murder might reduce calls for the mandatory life sentence to be abolished.

He has also backed the televising of criminal and civil appeals at the Court of Appeal and of sentencing in the Crown Court.

Speaking to journalists at the Royal Court of Justice this morning, Lord Judge said opposing views on the mandatory sentence were held “with some passion”, while some people wanted capital punishment to be restored.

He said murder was always exceptionally serious but varied in seriousness, just like every other offence.

He compared the case of a paedophile who kills a child to the situation of a “loving partner who after years of devotion does what the other half has begged him to do as a final act of love.

“They all get the same sentence but they don’t serve as long,” he said. “The sentence on each defendant is in reality not the same. It seems to me perhaps that the real problem is the law of murder itself.”

Lord Judge said a Law Commission report on murder, manslaughter and infanticide had been ignored by the government and the only reform of the law had been “piecemeal”, which did not alter the complications.

He highlighted the new defence of ‘loss of control’ and the law on joint enterprise as particular problem areas.

“What I would like is for the law to keep in step with public opinion,” Lord Judge said. “I would like there to be a free vote so MPs could vote in accordance with their consciences.”

Lord Judge said he was currently “grappling” with the issue of loss of control where one of the causes was sexual infidelity, which now has to be disregarded. He described the state of the law as “fiendishly difficult”.

On televising criminal trials, Lord Judge said he had no difficulties with argument or decisions in the Court of Appeal being televised, though he warned that the results would not make “riveting TV or get large audiences”.

He backed filming of sentencing in the Crown Court, but not witnesses giving evidence.

“The pressure of being on television alters something about the witness,” he said.

He added that a “vigorous old lady” who witnessed a crime in her street and gave evidence must wonder what the defendant’s friends might think of her.

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