Young killers' terms left open

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 January, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 January, 1997, 12:00am

A NEW plan for 20 young murderers awaiting a recommendation of mercy from the Queen leaves them still facing indefinite prison terms.


Families of the offenders, some of whom have spent 10 years or more in prison, have called on the authorities to speed up the process for fear of what might happen after the handover.


In a paper to legislators, the Security Branch proposes that for prisoners detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, the Chief Justice be asked to recommend an appropriate term, subject to the Governor's approval.


The Board of Review, Long-Term Prison Sentences, would then be able to decide whether these prisoners should be released upon the expiry of the recommended term.


The new arrangement will also apply to other young murderers jailed after the abolition of the death sentence in 1993.


Minors jailed for life in 1993 or before may receive leniency from the Queen, depending on recommendations from the Correctional Services Department based on their behaviour in prison over up to 10 years. A life term might be shortened to 20 to 30 years.


The branch said the new proposal was based on case law. It said a recent English Court of Appeal decision drew a distinction between a mandatory life sentence and a sentence of detention at Her Majesty's pleasure.


Offenders jailed at Her Majesty's pleasure should face a punitive term and a subsequent period to protect the public from danger.


Frontier legislator Leung Yiu-chung said of the proposal: 'It means offenders won't be sure whether they would be freed after serving the first term. This is very bad.' The Government also proposes to make the board a statutory body, adding a High Court judge to be its deputy chairman and removing all ex-officio members.


The Government also suggests a 'conditional release under supervision' scheme be introduced to give the board another option for discharging prisoners.


The Security Branch will brief legislators tomorrow.