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Timeline - Prison Tariffs

For people serving life sentences, the tariff is the period they must serve in prison before they can be considered for release. This was renamed the ‘minimum term’ in 2002, although the two terms are still often used interchangeably. When the system was first introduced, it was entirely secretive with tariffs being set by the Home secretary without any input from the prisoner. For many years prisoners were not even allowed to know the final decision that had been made. Gradually, as a result of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights it has been accepted that the tariff is part of the normal sentencing process. Although the current law allows for all newly convicted lifers to have their sentences set in open court, many thousands of lifers are still in the process of having their sentences reviewed and reset by the judiciary to rectify faults in the previous system.

Tariff Setting for Life Sentenced Prisoners
2013 Vinter v UK (2013) BHRC 605
Whole life tariffs held to be unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights. Bhatt Murphy represented the applicant in this case where the Grand Chamber held that the imposition of a whole life tariff with no prospect of release is a breach of Article 3 of the Convention.
2008 Whole life tariffs lawful
Decisions before the European Court in Kafkaris v Cyprus 25 BHRC 591 and the Court of Appeal in R v Bieber [2008] EWCA Crim 1601 hold that the whole ife tariff does not breach the Convention providing there is some mechanism to consider future release, even if it is wholy discretionary such as compassionate release.
2005 R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Smith [2005] UKHL 51
The House of Lords rules that HMP detainees whose tariffs were reset by the Lord Chief Justice following the ECtHR judgment in V v UK in 1999 are entitled to have periodic reviews of their progress.
2005 R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Dudson [2005] UKHL 52
The House of Lords uphold the decision of the Court of Appeal allowing for oral hearings not to be held in special circumstances. The judgment seems to be in direct conflict with the ECtHR decision in Easterbrook.
2005 R (Hammond) v Home Secretary [2005] UKHL 69
The House of Lords held that when setting or resetting the minimum term for a mandatory lifer, the High Court must have the discretion to hold an oral hearing where necessary to comply with Article 6(1). Accordingly, the legislation which prevented an oral hearing from taking place was in breach of Article 6(1) and the legislation had to be re-read so as to allow the court to convene an oral hearing where necessary.
2004 Easterbrook v UK [2003] 37 EHRR 40
ECtHR overrule the Court of Appeal decision from 1999 and declare that the lack of an oral hearing when setting the tariff was in breach of Article 6. Easterbrook v UK 2003
2004 R (Hammond) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] EWHC 2753
Divisional Court finds that the CJA 2003 breaches Article 6 by failing to allow judge’s to hold oral hearings for mandatory lifers when resetting their tariffs. The court amends the statute to give High court judges a discretion to do so where necessary. The Secretary of state appeals this decision (appeal to be heard by House of Lords in October 2005).
2003 Criminal Justice Act 2003
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 formalises the legal position so that all lifers have their sentences set by judges and their release decided by the Parole Board. This finally ends political involvement in all life sentences altogether. The Act makes provision for all mandatory lifers to apply to have their tariffs reset by a judge, although the procedures are confusing and expressly prevent the judges from holding an oral hearing on these applications.
2002 R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Anderson [2003] 1 AC 837
The House of Lords rule that it is in breach of Article 6 for mandatory lifers to have their tariffs set by judges and not politicians. However, the court cannot change the law and is restricted to issuing a declaration of incompatibility.
1999 R v Home Secretary ex parte Easterbrook (unreported)
The Court of Appeal rejects an argument that discretionary lifers were entitled to have oral hearings when their tariffs were reset following the CJA 1991. R v Home Secretary ex parte Easterbrook 1999
1999 V v United Kingdom [1999] 30 EHRR 121
ECtHR rule that English law relating to HMP tariffs breaches Article 6. The decision makes it clear that HMP detainees are also entitled to have their tariffs set by judges, just like discretionary lifers. In response, the Home Secretary asks the Lord Chief Justice to reset the tariffs and also does away with the periodic reviews of sentence for this group of lifers. V v UK 1999
1997 Hussain and Singh v UK [1996] 22 EHRR 1
ECtHR ruling on HMP prisoners holds that the Parole Board should decide when the detainee is released. This decision makes it obvious that the sentence should also be set by a judge and not the Home Secretary. Hussain v UK 1996 Singh v UK 1996
1997 R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte V and T [1997] UKHL 25
The House of Lords hold that the tariffs for juveniles convicted of murder (HMP detainees) have not been properly set as they fail to take account of the welfare principle that forms part of the sentence. The secretary of State subsequently agrees he will hold special reviews to reconsider these tariffs at regular intervals.
1995 R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte McCartney 19 May 1994 (unreported)
The Court of Appeal rejects the Home Secretary’s attempt to increase the tariff recommended by judges for a discretionary lifer. It confirms the tariff in such cases must be set with reference to normal sentencing practices. R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte McCartney 1994
1993 R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex Parte Doody [1993] QB 197
The House of Lords decide that mandatory lifers have a right to know how long their tariff will be and to make representations to the Home Secretary before it is set. R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex Parte Doody 1993
1991 Thynne Wilson and Gunnell v UK [1991] 13 EHRR 666
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) holds that discretionary lifers should have their release decided by judges, not politicians. The effect of this judgment means that the tariff should also be fixed by a judge. Thynne Wilson and Gunnell v UK 1991
1991 The Criminal Justice Act 1991
The Criminal Justice Act 1991 makes the European Court decision in Thynne Wilson & Gunnell part of English law and makes provision for tariffs for discretionary lifers to be set by the judge at the end of the trial. All prisoners serving life for murder (adults and children) still have their sentences set in secret by the Home Secretary.
In the timeline an orange heading indicates a contribution from Bhatt Murphy lawyers.