Recent Judicial Decisions

Date01 January 1998
Published date01 January 1998
Subject MatterArticle
Legal Correspondent for The Police Journal
Youth Detention Not
to Life Sentence
the Home Department ex parte Venables
and Thompson House of Lords
(1997) 9 Admin. LR 413
The Statute
Section 53, as substituted, provides:
"( I) A person
under the age of 18 years at the time the offence
was committed shall not, if he is convicted of murder, be sentenced
to imprisonment for life
but in lieu thereof the court shall.
sentence him to be detained during her Majesty's pleasure
Lord Goff said that in November 1993 Venables and Thompson had
been convicted of the murder of James Bulger, aged two, in February,
when they had been lO'h years old. The Judge had described the killing
as "an act of unparalleled evil and barbarity".
Before sentence the trial Judge said,
"This child of two was taken from his mother on a journey of over
two miles and then, on the railway line, was battered to death
without mercy and then his body was placed across the railway line
so that his body would be run over by a train in an attempt to conceal
his murder. In my judgment, your conduct was both cunning and
very wicked.
The sentence that I pass upon you both
is that you shall be
detained during Her Majesty's pleasure in such a place and under
such conditions as the Secretary of State may direct and that means
that you will be securely detained for very, very many years until the
Home Secretary is satisfied that you have matured and are fully
rehabilitated and are no longer a danger to others."
In his report to the Home Secretary the Judge had said that if Venables
and Thompson had been adults the actual length of detention necessary
to meet the requirements of retribution and general deterrence should
have been 18 years. Taking into account the appalling circumstances of
the murder and Venables and Thompson's age when it had been
committed the appropriate length was eight years: "'very very many
years' for a 10 or II-year-old".
January /998 The Police Journal

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