Calculating the minimum term in life sentences – consideration of time spent on remand

Written 17th May 2024 by Martha Odysseos

Olliers’ Martha Odysseos considers how time spent on remand is reflected when calculating minimum terms in relation to life sentences.

What is a life sentence?

If someone is found guilty of murder, a court must give them a life sentence.

There are other serious offences such as rape or armed robbery where a life sentence may be imposed at the discretion of the court.

When someone is given a life sentence, they will be subject to that sentence for the rest of their life. However, the judge must specify the minimum term in which the offender must spend in prison. 

Taking into account time spent on remand

In Sesay and others [2024] EWCA Crim 483 the Court of Appeal considered a number of appeals in relation to crediting period of remand in custody when a life sentence is imposed.

In the Court’s judgement it is stated that:

“Where a judge imposes a determinate sentence and days subject to curfew and/or time on extradition remand are to count as time served, the judge’s direction is not part of the sentence. So long as the judge makes it clear that the court order will be subject to correction if an administrative error is discovered, the correction can take place.”

However, the Court stated that this process cannot be applied to a minimum term to be served in relation to a life sentence.

The judgement states that “the minimum term is part of the sentence which consists of a specific period expressed in years and days. We conclude that a judge imposing a life sentence must announce the minimum term in that manner. We also conclude that the sentencing judge must announce in court the number of remand and/or curfew days which have been counted in order to reach the minimum term.”.

How does this impact sentencing?

The Court of Appeal has stated that if a life sentence is in prospect, the sentencing note of each party must include the information required in respect of periods on remand. The sentence must be announced in court by the judge, including the period spent on remand which is to count as time served.

In light of this defence teams must be aware of their client’s time spent on remand in preparation for a sentence hearing if a life sentence is a possibility. This will be known for those being sentenced for murder but a judge must make it clear if it is possibility when a life sentence is at the discretion of the court.

Olliers Solicitors – specialist criminal defence lawyers

Olliers is one of the UK’s leading criminal defence and regulatory law firms, specialising in the defence of individuals, businesses, and other organisations across a broad range of corporate and financial crime, regulatory offences, serious crime and sexual offences.

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Martha Odysseos



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