Senior judges have heard challenges or appeals to the prison sentences of some of the UK’s most notorious killers, including the whole-life terms of former police officer Wayne Couzens and double murderer Ian Stewart.
The special court of five judges is considering how whole-life orders – when a judge believes a person should never be considered for release – are imposed.
It is also reviewing the sentences of three other convicted killers.
Former Metropolitan Police PC Couzens was handed a whole-life term last year for the rape and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard after he abducted her in south London on 3 March 2021.
It was the first time the sentence had been imposed for a single murder of an adult not committed in the course of a terror attack.
Couzens appeared by video link from HMP Frankland and members of Ms Everard’s family were present in the Royal Courts of Justice.
Jim Sturman QC, for Couzens, told the court that it was accepted that he deserved “decades in jail” but argued a whole-life term was excessive.
“The combination of his remorse and his guilty pleas… should balance out that aggravating factor which clearly exists, of him being a police officer, albeit off-duty in half uniform.”
Tom Little QC, representing the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and Crown Prosecution Service, said Couzens’ offending was of the “utmost seriousness”, adding: “His criminality was, as found by the judge, a fundamental attack in reality on our democratic way of life.
“A police officer is in a uniquely powerful position,” Mr Little said.
“The whole-life order was the right sentence to impose in this wholly exceptional case.”
Stewart, who murdered his wife in 2010 and fiancee in 2016, also appealed against his sentence.
His lawyer, Amjad Malik QC, argued that the whole-life order he was given for the murdering his wife Diane Stewart was not justified in the circumstances of the case.
Stewart was previously sentenced in 2017 to life in prison with a minimum term of 34 years for the murder of children’s book author Helen Bailey.
“When one looks at the whole set of aggravating features with regard to both of these killings it does not fall in any way shape or form as an exceptionally high-seriousness case,” Mr Malik said.
However, Mr Little said: “It is difficult to say that this sentence was either manifestly excessive or wrong in principle.”
Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes killed six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes in June 2020, also had their sentences reviewed.
Tustin, who was jailed for life with a minimum term of 29 years, and Arthur’s father, Hughes, who was sentenced to 21 years for manslaughter, appealed against the length of their sentences which are also being challenged as being unduly lenient.
Mr Little said Tustin’s case “merited at the very least consideration of a whole-life order”.
He said: “This was, we accept, not a straightforward sentencing exercise. The trial was plainly a harrowing one for all concerned.”
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Mr Little said Arthur was “subjected to the most unimaginable suffering”, adding: “This was an extremely serious example of child murder against the background of that cruelty.”
Mary Prior QC, for Tustin, said the sentencing judge took a “fair and proper approach in this very difficult case”.
Bernard Richmond QC, for Hughes, argued that a judge fell into error and was almost “treble counting” when calculating his sentence.
Wednesday’s hearing also heard arguments over the sentence of Jordan Monaghan, who was handed a minimum term of 40 years at Preston Crown Court after he murdered two of his children and his new partner.
Mr Little said Monaghan’s murders or attempted murders were of “exceptionally high” seriousness, with “no mitigation here at all”.
But Benjamin Myers QC, for Monaghan, stressed the high bar needed for a whole-life term, which means the criminal would die in prison.
The hearing of the five sentence reviews finished on Wednesday and a decision will be given in writing at a later date.
The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said: “We propose to take time to consider our decisions in these very difficult and tragic cases.”