Rule changes to the minimum prison time for violent offences

Changes in the law since 2020 have made it more likely that those receiving custodial sentences for some violent or sexual offences will have to serve a minimum of two-thirds of their sentence. The changes to the rules governing early release have important implications for cases where the defendant may be considering a guilty plea. They also show, once again, the paramount importance of well-prepared mitigation (see also link to previous blog).

Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2020

The 2020 Order, which applied to sentences passed on or after 1 April 2020, meant that those receiving a fixed term custodial sentence of seven or more years for certain offences would have to serve two-thirds of the term. Prior to this, these offenders would have been automatically released halfway through the term. The change only affected specified violent offences and sexual offences carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. It did not apply to those:

both of which continued to be eligible for automatic release at the halfway point.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022

The two-thirds rule was extended following the enactment of the 2022 Act on 28 April 2022 to those given a fixed term sentence of four or more years for a specified offence. The change applies to the same range of sexual offences as the 2020 Order and to other specified serious violent offences. It means that those given a sentence of four or more years for an offence such as rape or manslaughter (for example) will have to serve two-thirds of their sentence.

The importance of early advice on plea

The new rules highlight the importance of obtaining specialist legal advice from an early stage where the evidence is such that the client may be considering entering a guilty plea. Depending on the offence, the amount of credit given for an early guilty plea may determine whether the length of any prison sentence given will escape the two-thirds rule or be caught by it. This could make a significant difference to the amount of time the client has to spend in prison.

In the same way, presenting the court with clear and comprehensive evidence in mitigation can make a significant difference to the amount of prison time the defendant serves.

For advice on this matter, please contact us.