House of Lords
|Session 2002 - 03
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|Judgments - Regina v Lichniak (Appellant)(On Appeal From The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)) |
Regina v. Pyrah (Appellant) (On Appeal from the Court of Appeal (Criminal Divison)) (Consolidated Appeals)
HOUSE OF LORDS
Lord Bingham of Cornhill Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead Lord Steyn Lord Hutton Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough Lord Scott of Foscote Lord Rodger of Earlsferry  EWHC Admin 294
OPINIONS OF THE LORDS OF APPEAL FOR JUDGMENT
IN THE CAUSE
(APPELLANT) (ON APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL (CRIMINAL DIVISION))
(APPELLANT) (ON APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL (CRIMINAL DIVISION))
ON 25 NOVEMBER 2002
 UKHL 47
LORD BINGHAM OF CORNHILL
1. The issue which arises on these appeals is agreed to be
2. Section 1(1) of the 1965 Act provides that those convicted of murder committed as adults should be sentenced to imprisonment for life. The thrust of the appellants' case can be shortly summarised: section 1(1) is arbitrary and disproportionate because it requires the same life sentence to be passed on all convicted murderers, whatever the facts of the case or the circumstances of the offender, and irrespective of whether they are thought to present a danger to the public or not. The Court of Appeal rejected the appellants' case and they now challenge that decision:  QB 296;  EWHC Admin 294.
3. In January 1990 Ms Lichniak, who was 29, lived with a man named Thomas, with whom she had had 4 children, 2 of them very young. On the occasion in question Thomas used her to go with him in his car to a public house to challenge a man with whom he had had a quarrel. She took a large carving knife from the car and while the two men were grappling with each other she fatally stabbed the deceased. Thomas was charged with her but acquitted on the basis that he had not been party to a joint enterprise. She claimed that her responsibility had been diminished at the time of the incident, but the jury rejected this defence. The trial judge (Ognall J) thought this a right decision, but found that she had been in a state of chronic anxiety stress induced in part by the demands of her children and her stormy relationship with Thomas. The judge thought that she had become highly emotional on this occasion, and took the knife and killed on an impulse. The judge reported to the Home Secretary:
4. The judge advised that Ms Lichniak be detained for 10-12 years to meet the requirements of retribution and general deterrence. The Lord Chief Justice suggested a minimum of 10 years, but observed that the risk factor could not be discounted. The Home Secretary in April 1997 set a tariff of 11 years. She was released on licence in July 2001.
5. In October 1996 Mr Pyrah, who was aged 41, was in a residential area with friends following an evening during which he had drunk heavily. He heard and saw in the street a fracas involving a woman being assaulted by a man. The woman was pushed to the ground. There was medical evidence that he had a particular sensitivity to such a situation because, as a child, he had witnessed his mother being treated violently. Upon seeing the fracas he approached the woman's assailant, punched him and knocked him to the ground, and there kicked his head. This first kick was described as being like a rugby penalty kick. It proved fatal. The trial judge (Smedley J) regarded the incident as a tragic event and when advising the Home Secretary drew attention to Mr Pyrah's good record and young family. He continued:
6. Having seen Mr Pyrah in the dock and the witness box, the judge considered that a prison term well below the norm would be sufficient in this case and recommended a term of 10 years. The Lord Chief Justice agreed that a term significantly below the norm was indicated and was of the opinion that, on the exceptional facts, a term of 8-9 years would meet the requirements of retribution and general deterrence. The Home Secretary, after a delay of nearly 2 years, set a tariff term of 8 years.
7. The nature and operation of the mandatory life sentence passed on convicted murderers (by which I mean adults convicted of murder in England and Wales) have been fully described in the opinions of the House in R (Anderson) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKHL 46, in which the appeal was heard at the same time as the present appeals and in which judgment is also being given at the same time. I shall treat the opinions of the House in that appeal as read into this opinion, to the extent that they are relevant, and I shall take the conclusions of the House in that appeal as my starting point in these.
8. If the House had concluded that on imposition of a mandatory life sentence for murder the convicted murderer forfeited his liberty to the state for the rest of his days, to remain in custody until (if ever) the Home Secretary concluded that the public interest would be better served by his release than by his continued detention, I would have little doubt that such a sentence would be found to violate articles 3 and 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights ("the convention") as being arbitrary and disproportionate. But Anderson, following earlier authority, makes plain that such is not the effect of the sentence. It is a sentence partly punitive, partly preventative. The punitive element is represented by the tariff term, imposed as punishment for the serious crime which the convicted murderer has committed. The preventative element is represented by the power to continue to detain the convicted murderer in prison unless and until the Parole Board, an independent body, considers it safe to release him, and also by the power to recall to prison a convicted murderer who has been released if it is judged necessary to recall him for the protection of the public. It is a sentence so characterised that the appellants must attack if their appeals are to succeed.
9. In presenting his argument for the appellants Mr Edward Fitzgerald QC did not, as in Anderson, attack the role of the executive in the imposition and implementation of mandatory life sentences. Since, in the case of both appellants, the Home Secretary had fixed the tariff term within the bracket recommended by the judges, this line of attack could scarcely have advanced the appellants' interests. Instead, Mr Fitzgerald based his argument on the one striking feature common to both their cases: that in each of them the trial judge had concluded that the appellant was not at all likely on release to present any danger to the public. Had the judges enjoyed any discretion it was very unlikely that either would have imposed a life sentence (see Attorney-General's Reference (No 32 of 1996) (R v Whittaker)  1 Cr App R (S) 261; R v Chapman  1 Cr App R 77). Thus Mr Fitzgerald argued that, however appropriate the preventative aspects of the life sentence might be in the cases of those judged to be a continuing threat or potential threat to the public (and I did not understand him to criticise the appropriateness of preventative safeguards in such cases), it was arbitrary, disproportionate and excessive to impose those safeguards on those who, like the appellants, were judged to present no danger to the public.
10. In support of his argument Mr Fitzgerald relied heavily on the decision of the Court of Appeal in R v Offen  1 WLR 253. That case concerned section 2 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, which required a life sentence to be imposed on a person convicted of a serious offence (as defined in the section) committed after the commencement of the section if, at the time of committing that offence he was 18 or over and had previously been convicted in any part of the United Kingdom of another serious offence "unless the court is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances relating to either of the offences or to the offender which justify its not doing so". Parliament did not, when enacting this section, include any definition of "exceptional circumstances", nor did it provide that a life sentence need not be imposed on a defendant who did not appear to present a continuing danger to the public. The section had earlier (R v Buckland  1 WLR 1262 at 1268) been described as
11. The central question in R v Offen, decided after the coming into force of the convention, was whether section 2 was compatible with articles 3 and 5 of the convention if it permitted or required the imposition of life sentences on those who did not appear to pose a threat to the safety of the public. The court concluded ( 1 WLR 253 at 277, para 97):
12. Mr Fitzgerald argued by analogy that convicted murderers should not be sentenced to imprisonment for life unless they appeared to present a danger to the public or if it appeared that they did not. His criticism was focused not on the first, punitive, stage of the sentence but on the preventative safeguards which affect alike those who are dangerous and those who are not. Mr Fitzgerald complained of three features in particular. First, convicted murderers serving the tariff term of their mandatory life sentences cannot know whether they will be released at the end of it or not, and so (unlike prisoners serving determinate sentences) will spend years on end uncertain about their date of release. Secondly, at the end of the tariff term it is for the prisoner to show that it is safe to release him, the onus being on him. Thirdly, even when released the prisoner remains liable to recall for the rest of his days if he is thought to present a danger to the safety of the public. In the cases of those judged to be dangerous or potentially so, these safeguards served a valid penological purpose. But in the cases of those not judged to be dangerous the safeguards serve no valid penological purpose; they are arbitrary, excessive and disproportionate; and so they offend articles 3 and 5 of the convention.
13. I do not regard this argument as either trivial or misconceived. The sentence of life imprisonment is now the most severe penalty for which the law provides. There is ground for concern if the sentence is imposed on those who, despite the seriousness of their crimes, could be adequately punished by a determinate sentence. Indeed, any mandatory or minimum mandatory sentence arouses concern that it may operate in a disproportionate manner in some cases. It was considerations of this kind which led the Supreme Court of Canada to conclude that a mandatory 7 year minimum sentence for importing drugs was incompatible with section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guaranteed that no one should be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment: R v Smith (Edward Dewey)  1 SCR 1045. I am, however, persuaded by the arguments advanced by Mr David Pannick QC on behalf of the Home Secretary that Mr Fitzgerald's argument in these appeals should be rejected.
14. First, sitting judicially, the House is concerned to decide not whether the mandatory life sentence for murder is desirable or necessary but whether it is lawful. Unless the sentence is shown to be unlawful, the appeals must fail. Secondly, the House must note that section 1(1) of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 represents the settled will of Parliament. Criticism of the subsection has been voiced in many expert and authoritative quarters over the years, and there have been numerous occasions on which Parliament could have amended it had it wished, but there has never been a majority of both Houses in favour of amendment. The fact that section 1(1) represents the settled will of a democratic assembly is not a conclusive reason for upholding it, but a degree of deference is due to the judgment of a democratic assembly on how a particular social problem is best tackled: see Brown v Stott  2 WLR 817 at 834-835, 842; R (Mahmood) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  1 WLR 840 at 854-855, paragraph 33, and 856, paragraph 38. It may be accepted that the mandatory life penalty for murder has a denunciatory value, expressing society's view of a crime which has long been regarded with peculiar abhorrence.
15. Thirdly, the mandatory life sentence is imposed only on those who have been proved to have taken a life or lives, as adults, with the intention of doing so or of causing serious physical injury and whose responsibility for their conduct was not found to be diminished. While, therefore, there will be those (of whom those who kill as an act of mercy, or battered wives, or those who overreact to a perceived threat may provide the best examples) who may reasonably be judged very unlikely to resort to violence again, the discussion inevitably takes place with reference to a person who is shown to have resorted to violence once, with fatal consequences to another. This in itself distinguishes this class of case from that to which section 2 of the 1997 Act applied, since it is clear that an offence may fall within the statutory definition of a serious offence and yet fall far short of serious crime, as was the case in R v Offen itself and as was the case in R v Buckland  1 WLR 1262 before it.
16. Fourthly, and very importantly, I do not consider that the appellants' complaints are of sufficient gravity to engage articles 3 and 5(1) of the convention. Those articles protect very important rights: article 3 the right not to be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, article 5(1) the right not to be deprived of liberty save in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law and save in a number of specified cases, of which the first is lawful detention after conviction by a competent court. But the convention is concerned to prevent significant, not minor, breaches. It has been held that mistreatment must attain a certain level of severity to breach article 3: Tyrer v United Kingdom (1978) 2 EHRR 1, para 30; Costello-Roberts v United Kingdom (1993) 19 EHRR 112, paras 30-32. With reference to article 5, in determining the arbitrariness of any detention regard must be had to the legitimacy of the aim of detention and the proportionality of the detention in relation to that aim. So the significance of the appellants' complaints must be viewed in the context of their treatment as a whole. It is relevant to note, first of all, that each of the appellants was sentenced to a tariff term which reflected the judges' views of the bracket within which the term should fall. The appellants themselves may no doubt consider the term too long. The relatives of their respective victims may think it too short. But the appellants were not sentenced to an arbitrary, rule-of-thumb term of imprisonment. Those responsible did their best to match the respective terms to the particular facts and circumstances of each case. I accept that the appellants, while serving their tariff terms, could not be sure of release on their tariff expiry date. But they would probably be aware of the views of the trial judges. If they availed themselves of such courses as were on offer at their respective prisons and did nothing in prison or during home leaves to throw doubt on their ability to eschew acts of violence, they could confidently hope for favourable reports as the tariff expiry date approached. If their sentences were properly administered, reports would be prepared in sufficient time before the expiry date to permit the Parole Board to consider their cases and permit release on the tariff expiry date if the board so recommended. It appears that the procedure worked as it should in Ms Lichniak's case, confirming the trial judge's initial assessment which is strongly reinforced by additional material which was not before him. I doubt whether there is in truth a burden on the prisoner to persuade the Parole Board that it is safe to recommend release, since this is an administrative process requiring the board to consider all the available material and form a judgment. There is, inevitably, a balance to be struck between the interest of the individual and the interest of society, and I do not think it objectionable, in the case of someone who has once taken life with the intent necessary for murder, to prefer the latter in case of doubt. In any event, this is a defensible process: material going to show that a prisoner is not dangerous will be before the board, and if the board is thought to show an exaggerated degree of caution it can be challenged. I would again accept that a convicted murderer would very much prefer not to be subject, on leaving prison, to a life licence carrying the threat of indefinite recall. But a prisoner released, as Ms Lichniak has been, should be in no danger of recall in the absence of any resort to violence, and the 1997 Act provides (in section 32) that the propriety of any recall shall be the subject of independent assessment by the Parole Board.
17. Fifthly, the Home Secretary is entitled to rely on the absence of any suggestion by the European Court in V v United Kingdom (1999) 30 EHRR 121 that the sentence of detention during Her Majesty's Pleasure, a sentence almost indistinguishable in substance from the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, was incompatible with articles 3 and 5 of the convention. It is doubtless true, as Mr Fitzgerald said, that an argument based on lack of dangerousness could not be advanced in that case, but I think it noteworthy that the court appears to have had no concern about the sentence as such.
18. I do not for my part think that the features of which the appellants complain, singly or cumulatively, are arbitrary, disproportionate or excessive to a point which would engage either of the convention articles relied on. I am in broad agreement with the reasons given by the Court of Appeal.
19. For these reasons and also for the reasons given by my noble and learned friend Lord Hutton I would accordingly answer No to each of the questions posed at the outset of this opinion and would dismiss the appeals.LORD NICHOLLS OF BIRKENHEAD
20. I have had the advantage of reading in draft the speeches of my noble and learned friends Lord Bingham of Cornhill and Lord Hutton. For the reasons they give, with which I agree, I too would dismiss these appeals.
21. For the reasons given by Lord Bingham of Cornhill and Lord Hutton, I too would dismiss the appeals.
22. These two appeals were heard at the same time as the appeal in R (Anderson) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, but unlike that appeal they do not relate to the question whether the fixing of the tariff for retribution and deterrence by the Home Secretary violates the right to a fair trial given by Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights ("the Convention"). The backgrounds to these two cases have been fully set out in the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Bingham of Cornhill and, as he has explained, the Home Secretary set the tariff in both cases within the bracket recommended by the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice, so that there would be no benefit to the appellants in attacking the action of the Home Secretary in fixing the tariffs.
23. It is clear that the Parole Board considered that the appellant Lichniak would not constitute a risk to the public if she were released and on its recommendation the Home Secretary released her on licence relatively soon after she had completed the tariff period for retribution and deterrence which he had fixed at 11 years. The appellant Pyrah is still serving the tariff period of 8 years fixed by the Home Secretary in his case and it appears to be very probable that when he has served that period he will also be released on licence by the Home Secretary on the recommendation of the Parole Board as not constituting a risk to the public. Therefore the issue which arises on their appeals is whether the pronouncement of the sentence of life imprisonment by the trial judges on their convictions for murder as required by section 1(1) of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 constituted a violation of their human rights declared in the Convention with the consequence that the House, pursuant to section 4(2) of the Human Rights Act 1998, should make a declaration that that subsection is incompatible with those Convention rights.
24. The submission advanced by Mr Fitzgerald QC on behalf of the appellants was that the imposition of life sentences on them constituted a violation of their rights under Article 3 and Article 5 of the Convention. Article 3 provides that no one should be subjected to inhuman or degrading punishment. Article 5(1) provides:
25. The jurisprudence of the European Court makes it clear that for punishment to be inhuman or degrading it must attain a particular level of severity: see Costello-Roberts v United Kingdom (1993) 19 EHRR 112 para 30. However the jurisprudence of the European Court also establishes that punishment which is arbitrary and disproportionate can be regarded as inhuman: see Weeks v United Kingdom (1987) 10 EHRR 293 para 47. It also follows from the requirement in Article 5 that no one shall be deprived of his liberty save "in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law" that the infliction of arbitrary and disproportionate punishment will constitute a breach of that article: see Engel v Netherlands (1976) 1 EHRR 647, para 58. Therefore the argument advanced by Mr Fitzgerald that the imposition of life sentences on the appellants constituted breaches of Article 3 and 5 was concentrated on establishing that such sentences were arbitrary and disproportionate punishment in their cases.
26. The main thrust of the argument was based on the fact that in each case the trial judge considered that there was no risk of the appellant being a danger to the public in the future, the trial judge in the Lichniak case reporting to the Home Secretary:
and the trial judge reporting in the Pyrah case:
The judgment of the European Court in Stafford v United Kingdom (Application no 46295/99) (28 May 2002) has established, as recognised by the opinions of the House in Anderson, that a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment consists at the outset of a period of years, the tariff period, which is served for retribution and deterrence, and after this period has expired there may be a second period during which the prisoner continues to be held in prison if his or her release would constitute a danger to the public. But in the present cases the trial judges considered that there would be no risk to the public in releasing the appellants at the end of the respective tariff periods. Therefore Mr Fitzgerald submitted that there was no necessity for the sentences to impose a further period of imprisonment for the protection of the public and accordingly the imposition of life sentences was arbitrary and disproportionate.
27. I am unable to accept this argument because I consider that, as submitted by Mr Pannick QC on behalf of the Home Secretary, the European Court in V v United Kingdom (1999) 30 EHRR 121 has recognised that an indeterminate sentence, in its operation in practice, does not constitute an arbitrary and disproportionate punishment. The judgment of the Court in that case related to the sentence of detention during Her Majesty's pleasure imposed on a child convicted of the murder of a younger child. In considering the complaint that the sentence of detention during Her Majesty's pleasure was a violation of V's rights under Article 3 the Court stated, at para 98:
28. In considering the complaint that the punishment was arbitrary and in breach of Article 5(1) the Commission stated, at paras 126 and 127:
The Court stated, at paras 104 and 105: