Retention of the mandatory life sentence for murder.

Essay by biltonbabeUniversity, Master'sB-, May 2003

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Murder can only be described as the most harmful and offensive of all crimes. It seemed for centuries both "just" and "fair" to punish murderers with the retributive sentence to death. However throughout the years the penalty of death has proven "unpopular" and "not necessary". Until the Homicide Act 1957 all persons convicted of murder were automatically sentenced to death. By s5 of that Act, certain types of murder were singled out and designated "capital murder". These continued to be punishable by death, whilst the remaining types of murder were punishable by imprisonment for life. In effect having two degrees of murder. The distinction between "capital murder" and "non-capital murder" disappeared with the Abolition Death Penalty Act 1965 and now the convicted murderer must be sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment (Smith and Hogan 1988:p330).

Offences of murder vary so vastly in gravity, contradictions and problems can arise to what is considered to be a "fair" and "just" sentence.

The terms most frequently used by lawyers are the words "just" and "unjust", and sometimes, very often, related to as if the ideas of justice and morality were co-extensive (Hart 1978:p153). Moral rules impose obligations and restrictions upon individuals. However, not only do law and morals share a vocabulary, they are also seen as duties and rights of the legal system, to produce fundamental moral guidelines (Hart 1978:p7).

We think and talk of "justice" according to the law, and yet also of the "justice" or "injustice" of the laws. In this respect the facts suggest that we should view the law as "a branch of morality" (Hart 1978:p7). More importantly some rules are mandatory in the sense that they require people to behave in certain ways, for example, to abstain from violence or pay taxes, whether they wish to or not. When...