A person convicted of a serious offence listed in schedule 1 of the Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008 (the “Order”) may receive either a discretionary Life Sentence, an Indeterminate Custodial Sentence (ICS) or an Extended Custodial Sentence (ECS).
If the offence is one in respect of which the offender would be liable to a life sentence, a life sentence must be imposed where the court is of the opinion that there is a significant risk of serious harm to the public should the offender commit further specified offences and where the court is of the opinion that the seriousness of the offence justifies such a sentence.
No release date is given for a life sentence prisoner. Offenders serving a life sentence will be given a “tariff” date which is the earliest date that they may become eligible for consideration for release by the PCNI. The tariff is set by the Court. A referral will be made to PCNI by the Department of Justice to consider release approximately 6 months before the tariff expiry date under Article 6 of the Life Sentences (NI) Order 2001.
A life sentence prisoner will remain in custody until they have demonstrated to the satisfaction of the PCNI that they can be released safely into the community.
Where the decision has been taken not to release a prisoner at the tariff date, the Department of Justice must refer the case to the PCNI within 2 years, or sooner if recommended by the panel. It is common practice for the Commissioners to recommmend a review period which is less than this.
Life sentence prisoners who are released will be subject to licence conditions which will remain in place for the rest of their lives. Licence conditions may be added, varied or cancelled in consultation with the PCNI. An offender is liable for recall to custody if they breach their conditions.