Only a few weeks after the formal dropping of the crown appeal in the al-Megrahi case the Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini QC argued before a bench of five judges chaired by the Lord Justice-General Lord Hamilton that the approach to sentencing murderers should be reviewed.
The current guidelines date back to the appeal decision in Andrew Walker v HMA where in reducing the punishment tariff for a triple murderer from thirty to twenty seven years the general position was summarised at paragraph 8:
"In the absence of significant mitigation most cases of murder would, in our view, attract a punishment part of 12 years or more, depending on the presence of one or more aggravating features. In the individual case account has also to be taken of the seriousness of the offence combined with other offences of which the accused has been convicted on the same indictment, along with any previous convictions of the accused, in accordance with the terms of section 2(2) of the [Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act] 1993 …. As the sentencing judge suggests in his report in the present case a number of murder cases might be of such gravity, for example where the victim was a child or a police officer acting in the execution of his duty, or where a firearm was used, that the punishment part should be fixed in the region of 20 years. However, there are cases – which may be relatively few in number – in which the punishment part would have to be substantially in excess of 20 years."
The Lord Advocate is seeking a review of this earlier decision. The appeal on unduly lenient sentencing relates to the convictions of Brian Boyle and Greig Maddock; and Robert Kelly. The Scotsman reports that during the hearing Mrs Angiolini argued,
"It is inadequate to reflect the wide range of conduct which may amount to murder, and fails to reflect adequately the exceptionally serious cases of murder, particularly those involving multiple victims, terrorism, or persistent sexual violence against vulnerable adults or children. … I ask the court to consider issuing a guidance opinion that will recognise 30 years is not the absolute maximum punishment part, and recognises explicitly that in some exceptional cases a punishment part that will exceed the natural life expectancy of the accused may be appropriate. If the court is with me, I would ask you to give consideration to identifying, within an expanded and increased scale, appropriate starting points for general categories of murderous conduct which may be aggravated or mitigated according to the circumstances of the offence and/or the offender."
A final decision of the court of five judges is awaited.