No mandatory life sentence prisoner convicted of murder can be considered for release until they have served their “tariff” or “minimum term”, i.e. the period of imprisonment considered necessary for the requirements of retribution and deterrence. The release of all tariff expired life and indeterminate sentenced prisoners, including those detained in special hospitals as well as in prisons, is now a matter for the independent Parole Board. The Parole Board can direct a lifer’s release on or after tariff expiry, only if it is satisfied that the prisoner no longer poses a risk of serious harm to the public. Where a whole life tariff has been set, the Parole Board cannot determine the question of release.
Under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the responsibility for setting minimum terms in mandatory lifer cases transferred from the Home Secretary to the courts. Transitional arrangements in the Act allow any existing mandatory life sentence lifer whose tariff has been set by Ministers or whose tariff has not yet been set, to apply to have a tariff set or re-set by the High Court. It is understood that Peter Sutcliffe has submitted representations to the High Court under those transitional processes. In fact, no tariff was set by Ministers in this case.
It is a matter for the High Court to determine the tariff in Mr. Sutcliffe’s case. If the court fixes a whole life tariff, then his case cannot be referred to the Parole Board for consideration of release. Mr. Sutcliffe was transferred to Broadmoor hospital in 1984 and has remained there ever since. For as long as he remains lawfully detained in hospital under Mental Health Act powers, and meets the Mental Health Act criteria for detention, his release cannot be considered by the Parole Board, even in the event that he received a determinate tariff by the High Court.