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Whole-life orders only for ‘exceptionally serious cases’, CoA rules

By Sam Tobin >>

(29 July 2022)

Whole-life orders should be imposed only in ‘the few exceptionally serious cases’ where a minimum term is not appropriate, the Court of Appeal ruled today in the cases of five killers – including Wayne Couzens, the former Metropolitan Police officer who murdered Sarah Everard.

A five-judge bench heard three references brought by the attorney general and solicitor general, who sought a whole-life order in the cases of Emma Tustin, 32, who was jailed for a minimum of 29 years for the murder of her six-year-old son Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, and Jordan Monaghan, 30, who was jailed for a minimum of 40 years for murdering his partner and two young children.

The court also heard appeals by four offenders seeking a reduction in their sentences, including 49-year-old Couzens who challenged a whole-life sentence imposed last September by Lord Justice Fulford.

Couzens’ barrister Jim Sturman QC accepted that his client deserves ‘decades in jail’, but told the court in May: ‘If a whole life order is inevitable regardless of plea, then defendants in [Couzens’] position are less likely to plead guilty.’

But the Court of Appeal said today that the ‘seriousness’ of Couzens’ offending ‘is so exceptionally high such that a whole life order rather than a minimum term order should be made’.

The lord chief justice Lord Burnett, giving the judgment of the court, said that a whole-life order was correct ‘given the misuse of Couzens’ role as a police officer and the serious aggravating features of the offending’.

Ian Stewart, 61, who was convicted in February of the 2010 murder of his first wife Diane Stewart, having been found guilty of murdering his second wife – children’s author Helen Bailey – in 2017, successfully appealed against his whole-life order, which was replaced by a 35-year minimum term.

In the case of Monaghan, the Court of Appeal ruled that a whole-life order was not appropriate but increased his minimum sentence to 48 years.

Tustin’s 29-year minimum term was unchanged but the 21-year sentence given to her former partner and Arthur’s father Thomas Hughes, 29, was increased to 24 years.

In the court’s judgment, Burnett emphasised that the principles to be applied when considering whether to make a whole-life order are ‘well-established and were not the subject of dispute before us’, adding: ‘It is no part of the cases advanced … on behalf of the attorney general and solicitor general to lower the bar for the imposition of whole life orders.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)