account arrow-down-linearrow-down-small arrow-downarrow-download arrow-left-small arrow-leftarrow-link arrow-rightarrow-upaudio-less-volume audio-not-playing audio-plus-volume audio awarded books calendar close-modal closedate document education emailevent Facebookhamburger impact instagramjustice linkedin location-outline location opinion page phonepinterestplay pluspost preview project reports search-bigsearch-old search share startime twitterwelfare youtube zoom-in zoom-out

Sentencing in murder cases

Researchers: Professor Barry Mitchell

By Nuffield Foundation

Project overview


This public attitudes survey was designed to test the assumption that the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment is necessary to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system.

Key findings

  • There is no evidence of widespread public support for automatically sentencing all convicted murderers to life imprisonment, although the level of public support increased for more serious cases of murder.
  • These findings confirm previous research by Professor Mitchell that the public believe different scenarios warrant different sentences; given the choice in a range of cases, they would support applying different sentences. Although at present it is unclear how far there is a consensus about what constitutes a particularly serious murder.
  • The vast majority of people incorrectly assume the murder rate in England and Wales has increased over the past decade, or at the very least has stayed the same, when it has actually begun to decline somewhat.
  • A large proportion of those surveyed underestimated the length of time that most murderers spend in prison before being released on life licence.

Recommendations

  • If the law is to broadly correspond to public opinion, serious consideration should be given to restructuring the law of murder so that the mandatory life sentence is retained only for particularly serious cases. A recommendation along these lines was made by the Law Commission in 2006, but no action was taken by the Labour government. The coalition government has committed to publishing a Green Paper on sentencing and rehabilitation in late 2010.
  • Professors Mitchell and Roberts also called for greater awareness and better understanding of the state’s response to murder, in an effort to produce greater confidence in the criminal justice system.

Latest on this project


Team


  • Professor Barry Mitchell
    Coventry University

  • Director, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation
By Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

Search projects

We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.

Profile