The family of Lisa Dorrian have said murderers who do not disclose the location of victims must serve at least 20 years imprisonment.
Joanne Dorrian, whose sister Lisa vanished after a party on the Ards Peninsula at a caravan park in 2005, spoke to Ards North Down councillors, urging support on her response to questions posed by the Justice Minister Naomi Long in the consultation for “Charlotte’s Law”.
She told the council’s Corporate Committee that murderers who do not disclose where the remains of their victims lie must have their crimes re-categorised, must serve at least 20 years, and should receive a one-off period of 18 months at the beginning of their sentence to disclose the location for a sentence review.
The consultation is part of a review examining the need for new legislation similar to “Helen’s Law” which was introduced in England and Wales in 2020.
The consultation also asks whether a bespoke change in the law should be made in Northern Ireland, to be known as “Charlotte’s Law”, inspired by a campaign led by the family of Charlotte Murray and supported by the family of Lisa Dorrian.
Charlotte Murray went missing in Moy near Dungannon in 2012, and her body has never been found. Her former partner Johnny Miller was convicted of the murder in 2019 - the first time there has been a conviction for a no-body murder in Northern Ireland. He received 16 years imprisonment.
Charlotte’s family believe his failure to identify the location of the body should be taken into account at parole hearings. After his sentencing, they said he should not be released from prison until he reveals the location.
The Department of Justice review has identified different options in its review. Mrs Long said a report had been produced “highlighting the potential for encouraging disclosure at the investigation and prosecution stages: at conviction and in the pre-sentence and sentencing stages, early post-conviction during the tariff period, and finally, during the parole process.”
Joanne Dorrian asked Ards North Down councillors to support her family’s proposal in their corporate response to the consultation.
She said: “Lisa’s very active police investigation is closer now to getting justice than we have ever been, and we find ourselves in a very confident position. So in joining forces with the Murray family, we are proposing to change the administrative and legislations around no body murders and how they are treated in the judicial system.”
Referring to the questions posed in the consultation, she said: “(We are asked) if concealment should be treated as an aggravating factor as it was in Charlotte’s case.
“That obviously leads to the discretion of the judge, which we are totally respectful of, but when we have aggravating factors and mitigating factors, he still has only 16 years before he is eligible for parole. What we are saying is we would not like it to be considered an aggravating factor.”
She added: “We would like to re-categorise no body murders into the very serious category, and in doing that, whenever the sentencing review is brought in early in the next mandate, that it will be a minimum starting point at 20 years. That’s a good starting point, although it is not as much as other places around the world.”
She said: “We are not in this to lock up the criminal and throw away the key, we want to encourage as early a disclosure as to where (the victims) are as possible.
“We want to incentivise early disclosure, and not wait until the parole stage, as in Helen’s Law, where on a statutory footing they have to consider the non-disclosure before they would be eligible for parole.”
She said: “When we get to the conclusion of the proceedings, and the murderer has been found guilty and sentenced, they should be given a specified amount of time to disclose where the remains of their victims are.
“If they do that and the victim is found, they can then have their tariff reviewed. It is a one-time only offer to the murderer.”
She said the review time in which the murderer could disclose locations should be between 12 to 18 months “for the prisoner to adjust to their new life in prison, when they are looking at the length of their sentence.”
The consultation on Charlotte’s Law is open until February 7.