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Criminal Law and the Need for Reform

Criminal Law and the Need for Reform

One evening in March this year saw Cardiff’s Law School and its students being treated to the presence of Prof. David Ormerod (see profile below). His lecture addressed the urgent need for various areas of the criminal law to be simplified, codified and ultimately reformed. The main theme of his lecture focused mainly on the need to reform certain homicide offences, the legal tests and the general areas surrounding the present state of the law. The importance of attending such a lecture was one which was not to be missed for any criminal law student. Despite myself having being offered tickets to the international football friendly of Wales v Costa Rica in remembrance of Gary Speed, only five minutes prior to the lecture – I still went to the lecture (luckily enough I also made it to the game later on!).

The lecture came at an appropriate time for me as it truly awakened my senses and made me aware of a need for such reforms to happen sooner rather than later. Prior to the short but succinct lecture, my awareness of the need for reform was fairly skin-deep, as my knowledge only spread as far as the boundaries of my degree lectures. Yet, all you need to do today is open any newspaper to tell you that those in the legal profession are less than satisfied with the present state of criminal law in England and Wales. With more and more criminal cases being covered by the media, an ever increasing number of homicide cases making the headlines, and the fact that the centralisation of social media in today’s society enables individuals to have such headlines in real-time, it is only a matter of time before the needs for criminal law reform becomes a public phenomena, beyond the realms of barristers’ chambers and solicitors’ offices.

Over the past decade there has been a large number of proposals for reforms in different areas of the criminal law, and this has largely been a developmental process; proposals to some reforms have triggered proposals to sentencing as well as court processes. An attempt to list all of the prospective changes would be an attempt to almost codify the reforms, a task which would require a mammoth amount of writing and reading! So in order to give a general idea, it would be dynamic to use an example that has surfaced recently. Early this month saw an article in The Times by David Pannick, QC, [1] questioning whether the life imprisonment sentence for murder complied with contemporary societal values and Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). At present, the mandatory life sentence has been held by the House of Lords in Lichniak; Pyrah [2002] UKHL 47 to not be incompatible with the ECHR, Articles 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) or 5 (right to liberty) on the grounds that the operation in practice of an indeterminate sentence, did not constitute an arbitrary and disproportionate punishment because the detention was not indefinite but only for the tariff period sufficient to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence in the circumstances of the particular case.

My next piece will look to the wider background of the life imprisonment sentence and its more recent background.

  • Having being called to the bar in 2002, David Ormerod enjoyed tenancy in 18 Red Lion Court chambers as a barrister only later to become the Law commissioner for Law and Evidence in September 2010. Whilst holding chair of the commission for such areas, there have been numerous proposals for the present criminal law system. The lengthy description of ongoing proposals and findings of the Law Commission can be found here. Extending beyond the vicinities as law commissioner, David Ormerod is also known for holding a number of editorial positions regarding criminal law; being involved with the Criminal Law Review as well as, what could be described as ‘the bible’ of criminal law for students – Smith and Hogan on Criminal Law.
  • [1] ‘Locking up murderers is not an option’ The Times 1/3/2012
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