When an adult is convicted of murder the court must impose a sentence of life imprisonment (if the offender was under the age of 18 at the time of the offence the mandatory sentence imposed is detention during Her Majesty’s pleasure which has a similar effect to a sentence of life imprisonment).
Although judges must impose the sentence of life imprisonment, they do have discretion when setting the minimum term – the length of time the offender will have to spend in prison before they are first considered for release by the Parole Board.
When setting the minimum term, judges must have regard to the starting points set out in Schedule 21 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and, depending on the circumstances of the offence will select a starting point of either whole life, 30 years, 25 years or 15 years (if the offender was under the age of 18 at the time of the offence the starting point is 12 years).
They will then consider the other relevant aggravating and mitigating factors and apply these to the starting point and this may increase or decrease the length of the minimum term imposed.
Once the offender has completed their minimum term they can be considered for release by the Parole Board but they will only be released if the Parole Board conclude that they are safe to be released.
Life sentence prisoners are subject to life licence which means they can be returned to prison at any point to continue serving their life sentence if they either breach the conditions of their licence or commit a further offence.