Bioethics Blogs

Harsher sentences for murder of a police officer: what are the arguments?

The recent media coverage of the Parole Board’s decision to release Harry Roberts after serving his (minimum) murder sentence has reignited debate over how those convicted of killing a police officer should be punished. The fact that the people Roberts murdered were police officers seems to be of great significance in the outcry about his release: not only did he murder, he murdered police officers.

The current law in England and Wales states that the murder of a police (or prison) officer in the course of duty is a factor indicating a murder of ‘particularly high seriousness’, which must attract a minimum sentence of 30 years. Other factors indicating particularly high seriousness include:

  • involving use of a firearm or explosive
  • for gain, such as robbery, burglary or for payment
  • intended to obstruct or interfere with the course of justice
  • involving sexual or sadistic conduct
  • murder of two or more persons
  • racially or religiously aggravated or aggravated by sexual orientation

There is one category above this in terms of seriousness: a whole life order must be passed for murders of ‘exceptionally high seriousness’, currently indicated by factors such as:

  • two or more victims involving specified aggravating features
  • murder of child involving abduction, sexual or sadistic motivation
  • murder for political, religious or ideological cause
  • previous conviction for murder

Last year Theresa May argued that an offender who kills a police officer should automatically face life in prison without parole, which would thereby make the offence comparable to those in this highest category of ‘exceptionally high seriousness’ murders.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.