Top judge urges murder law reforms
Careful reform of the "fiendishly difficult" murder law is needed to help stop a "sense of injustice" over life sentences, the most senior judge in England and Wales has said.
The Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said proposals for a US-style system of first and second degree murder seven years ago were "provocative but very interesting", but successive governments had failed to act.
He stopped short of publicly backing the move, but said the law needed to "keep in step with public opinion" and called for MPs to be given a free vote on the issue.
It would mean an end to mandatory life terms for all murderers, a move called for by legal experts on the Homicide Review Advisory Group.
The judges, academics and former QCs said neither mandatory sentences nor the system for setting minimum terms allowed for sentences to match individual cases. A so-called mercy killing attracts the same mandatory life penalty as serial killings, the group said.
Lord Judge said: "It seems to me perhaps the real problem is with the law of murder itself.
"I would have thought myself that a careful reform, or consideration of reform of the law of murder, might reduce the call for the automatic sentence to be removed."
He added: "If the whole law of murder were looked at, that might very well address the question of whether or not those who are asking for the automatic sentence to be removed would have their biggest concerns allayed.
"I'm not actually expressing a view either way whether more people should be caught or fewer people should be caught. What I'm saying is it's fiendishly difficult. The end result may not always seem to John and Jane citizen to be the right result when set against all the other cases of murder.
"I wasn't suggesting the current law doesn't embrace people correctly, or does embrace people correctly, I'm just saying it's extremely complicated as it is."