British High Court to set length of Huntley's sentence

The minimum period Ian Huntley will stay in jail will not be decided until next year.

The minimum period Ian Huntley will stay in jail will not be decided until next year.

Britain's Home Secretary David Blunkett has been barred from setting the minimum sentence – or “tariff” – under European human rights rules.

Evil Huntley will not be covered by tough new sentencing rules which create a compulsory new “life means life” tariff for multiple murderers, effectively ensuring they die in jail.

The Criminal Justice Act will bring this into effect tomorrow – December 18.

Because Huntley committed his crimes before that date, he will be sentenced under so-called “transitional arrangements”.

This means a senior judge – possibly the Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf – will consider his case and set the tariff.

The judge will have to bear in mind the Act’s new sentencing guidelines but he will not be allowed to hand the murderer a longer tariff than ones issued in comparable cases under the old system by successive home secretaries.

An added complication is that the Soham trial judge, Mr Justice Moses, would have been able to set the tariff himself under the same rules if the jury had come back tomorrow.

As it stands, Huntley’s sentencing will probably not be decided by the High Court for months.

The Home Secretary has not set any tariffs since November 2002 and there is a queue of several hundred cases waiting to have their minumum sentences set.

Huntley’s case will be right at the back of the queue.

The length of Huntley’s tariff is difficult to predict.

The “whole life” tariff would be the starting point for adults who have committed multiple murders – two or more.

But the law says the crimes must show a “high degree of premeditation”, involve abduction of the victim before the killing or are “sexual or sadistic”.

The tough new tariff also applies in the murder of a child “following abduction or that involving sexual or sadistic conduct”.

Under the old system, tariffs set by the Home Secretary have rarely been disclosed.

But it is known that 50-year tariffs were handed to serial killer Harold Shipman and to Roy Whiting, who murdered and sexually abused youngster Sarah Payne.

The Home Secretary lost his tariff-setting powers after the case of Anthony Anderson, who appealed against a 20-year tariff fixed by the then Home Secretary for a 1988 murder.

The House of Lords ruled that a situation where a politician fixed the minimum term was not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Only crimes committed after tomorrow will be dealt with under the new Act and face the possibility of the new “whole life” tariff.

More in this section

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox