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R v Home Secretary ex parte Pierson

[1997] 3 WLR 492

Case summary last updated at 05/01/2020 17:55 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case R v Home Secretary ex parte Pierson

D was convicted of double murder and under the sec state’s scheme was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment when Lord Chief Justice had recommended 15 years. This was communicated to D after the trial judge had sentenced him to life with possible parole after 15 years. Under the sentencing tariff, D was entitled to know what the judiciary recommended, what the sentence passed by the Home sec was and the latter’s reason if there would “exceptionally” be a difference. D was also entitled to seek judicial review if there was a difference. HL found that the Home Sec was only entitled to increase the sentence recommended where there was an “exceptional circumstance” which was not the case here. HL also said that there was no general power of the Home Sec to change the period communicated to the prisoner or to raise the sentence: only a possibility in exceptional circumstances. 
 
Lord Steyn: A Home Sec or judge cannot alter the sentence after 28 days has lapsed since the original sentence: this is important since the family of the convicted may plan their lives around the sentence. Also the Home Sec’s power is to state when the earliest possible release date for the prisoner is: NOT to retrospectively increase the sentence. Steyn says that the fundamental principle of not raising fixed tariffs was not mentioned in the legislation giving Home Sec this power and therefore we assume parl did not intend that he should get it. NB this seems to be a more challenging attitude than that demonstrated by the Wednesbury test, possibly because of the human rights aspect involved: The courts may have had right to a fair trial under ECHR in mind when making the decision and therefore applying a more intense review standard than usual. 

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