Michael Turner QC comments on sentences for Stephen Lawrence's killers

Thursday 5 January 2012

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Following yesterday's sentencing of Stephen Lawrence's killers, Michael Turner QC has cautioned against thinking the sentences were too light.

In comments widely reported in The Independent, The Guardian and on Sky News, Michael reminded readers and viewers that both murderers are on life sentences and that the tariffs handed down are the minimum terms that must be served in prison.

"What I would be concerned about from the public's point of view is that, if we start saying these sentences are woefully low, the implication is that the judge has taken some kind of sympathy with the murderers and he has not at all."

He described the trial judge, Mr Justice Treacy, a member of the Sentencing Council which sets guidelines for judges, as "a very solid, safe pair of hands".

He went on to say that judges "don't have a huge deal of discretion" in sentencing as they have to be guided by statutory law and common sense in order to avoid sentences being overturned on appeal.

He reminded the public that for serious crimes such as murder, all the evidence available has shown that harsher sentences, regrettably, do not act as a deterrent.

"If the sentence for parking on a double yellow line was life imprisonment, that will work. But it does not for murder. Murderers are either terrorists, in other words professional killers, who would like to be hung so they can be martyrs, or one of the vast majority who are not thinking about it [sentencing] at all. If racism is endemic within society, it's not going to be cured by racist murderers being sent away for life."

Gary Dobson was sentenced to at least 15 years 2 months in prison and David Norris at least 14 years 3 months before they could be considered for release.

Michael Turner QC is Vice Chair of the Criminal Bar Association and a member of the Garden Court Crime Team.

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