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UK chief justice speaks out against mandatory sentencing

[JURIST] Britain's most senior judge assailed recent government sentencing guidelines in a speech [PDF] Thursday, warning that minimums set in 2003 threatened to eventually fill up the country's prisons with "geriatric lifers" and would have negative consequences for years to come. Speaking at Birmingham University, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers [BBC profile], also expressed concern about recent proposals [materials] by the Law Commission [official website] to break the sentencing scheme for murder down into separate categories with potentially quite disparate minimums of their own. Instead, Phillips suggested that the mandatory life sentence for murder be abandoned and that a new broad offense of "homicide" be created which would allow judges wide discretion in sentencing for different scenarios of that according to circumstances.

Both sentencing and prison overcrowding have made headlines in the UK recently. In January, the 600-member Council of Her Majesty's Circuit Court Judges pointedly rejected government proposals for sentencing reform [JURIST report], calling them "kneejerk". The same month, UK Home Secretary John Reid, Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer and Attorney General Lord Goldsmith wrote to British judges [HO press release] urging them to limit imposition of prison sentences to only the most dangerous criminals in order to help the government deal with prison overcrowding [BBC backgrounder; Guardian Q/A] that has reached crisis proportions [JURIST report]. The Times has more.

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