(CNS): A court heard Friday that a group of men serving life sentences in HMP Northward may be mounting a legal challenge to the introduction of a minimum tariff for prisoners serving life sentences under the Conditional Release Law. The legislation, which was enacted last year to meet the requirements in the Bill of Rights, is, ironically, likely to face a human rights challenge for the very people it was designed to help. Six ‘lifers’ were released after much shorter terms than the new law proposes, and the serving lifers claim the situation is unfair.
The decision by lawmakers to introduce what many legal experts say is a very high tariff of 30 years for a life sentence means that inmates already serving may get a worse deal under the new law than the old one.
Challenging the current court process to allocate tariffs to all lifers, the inmates have written to the courts to say that they believe it means they will serve longer terms than they had been led to believe. Since the abolition of the death penalty, most lifers have been released after serving a lot less than 30 years, even though ‘life’ meant literally life under the old law.
Previously, a life term meant that a person convicted of murder or other very serious crimes would die in jail, but most were released on licence after around two decades, usually as a result of successful applications to the governor.
Six lifers have already been released after serving at least twenty years but less than thirty, the crown revealed to the court at a hearing for Tareek Rickets, who was given a mandatory life term in 2013 for killing Jackson Rainford in a jealous feud over his lover and the mother of his children in George Town in 2012, when he was just 22.
A group of lifers who are current inmates expected to make applications to the governor in anticipation that their good behaviour would result in their being released on licence well before they had served three decades in prison under the old system.
However, the new law stipulates that all lifers must receive a tariff, which has been set at 30 years by politicians, a starting point which can only be lowered by the court in exceptional circumstances but it can be increased for aggravating factors.
The tariff is not a release date. It is the first opportunity that a lifer will have to face the release board. If the board is not satisfied that the prisoner has been sufficiently rehabilitated or that he or she is in a position to lead a productive and law-abiding life on release, they will continue to serve until such a time as the board finds it appropriate to allow the person to be released on licence.
The court has begun the process of hearing cases as under the new law, and all those sentenced to life in jail must be given a tariff before the end of next year. There are currently around 20 inmates that will be appearing in court over the coming months regarding the question of how long will they really serve and whether it is fair and constitutional.