Whole-life orders with no prospect of release are to become the “default sentence” for murders deemed to involve “sexual or sadistic conduct” under new Government plans.
At present, only a handful of criminals are made subject to a whole-life order each year – with serial killer Lucy Letby and Louis De Zoysa, who killed Metropolitan Police officer Sgt Matt Ratana, the most recent people to receive one.
But the Government intends to change the law so that judges are required to impose whole-life orders on certain killers, except in extremely limited circumstances.
The proposed legal change would also allow judges to hand out the maximum sentence to 18-year-olds in “exceptional” cases, such as for acts of terrorism resulting in a mass loss of life.
Those made subject to a whole-life order can never be considered for release unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.
Prison sentences with no prospect of release has provoked human rights challenges in the past, the European Convention on Human Rights upheld the lawfulness of whole-life orders in 2017.
Downing Street claims the change could have applied to the recent cases of Zara Aleena and Sabina Nessa.
Jordan McSweeney was jailed for life with a minimum term of 38 years for murdering law graduate Ms Aleena as she walked home in east London, while sexual predator Koci Selamaj was jailed for at least 36 years for murdering primary school teacher Ms Nessa in south-east London.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “I have shared the public’s horror at the cruelty of crimes we have seen recently.
“People rightly expect that in the most serious cases, there should be a guarantee that life will mean life. They expect honesty in sentencing.
“By bringing in mandatory whole-life orders for the heinous criminals who commit the most horrific types of murder, we will make sure they never walk free.”
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said: “A whole life order will now be the expectation for murderers where the killing involves sexual or sadistic conduct.
“This important law change will ensure that the worst of the worst can now expect to spend the rest of their lives in prison.”
It is not yet known when the law will come into effect, but No 10 said the Government will legislate for the changes “in due course”.
There are currently 67 people serving a whole-life tariff in prison, with four more in secure hospitals, according to the Ministry of Justice.
In the past, home secretaries could issue whole-life tariffs, but these are now determined by judges.
Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which became law last year, the Government expanded the use of whole-life orders for the premeditated murder of a child.
On Monday, Lucy Letby was sentenced to a whole-life term for the murder of seven babies and the attempted murders of six more.
She joins a string of the country’s most dangerous offenders who are likely to die behind bars, including Sarah Everard’s killer Wayne Couzens, necrophiliac David Fuller and terrorist Ali Harbi Ali, who murdered MP Sir David Amess.