Should life mean life? Legal experts debate whole-life sentences

Are some crimes so repugnant that the perpetrator should spend the rest of their life in prison, without the possibility of review? 

This question will be tackled by top legal experts from the University of Sussex and leading prison-reform campaigners in a lively panel discussion at Brighton Dome next week (Tuesday 4 November). 

Unreviewable whole-life prison sentences were earlier this year judged to be unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights – a decision that has moved the UK government to draw up plans to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) if the UK is not given the right to veto the court’s rulings. 

The European Court of Human Rights would become an 'advisory body' to the UK government under a draft ‘British Rights’ bill to be published before Christmas, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced last month. 

Debating the implications are panelists:

  • Professor Stephen Shute, an expert in criminal law and criminal justice at the University of Sussex who has acted as an advisor to government on various criminal justice issues. His work on unduly lenient sentences prompted the Lord Chief Justice, in January 2000, to revise the practice directions that govern the allocation of cases in the Crown Court.
  • Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, campaigns for fewer people in prison, more community sentencing, fewer children in prison by raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and change within prisons.
  • Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, which makes the case for prison reform to government and political parties. The Trust believes that prison should be reserved for those whose offending is so serious that they cannot serve their sentence in the community.

The discussion will be co-ordinated by Professor Stuart Harrop, a law professor at the University of Sussex, who organised the event. 

Audience members will be invited to register their views using an electronic voting system and to join in with questions and opinions of their own. The ticket price (£7/£5 concession) includes the cost of one drink. 

The aim of the Sussex Salon series – named after the 18th-century practice of debating intellectual matters in public places – is to highlight University research that engages with contemporary issues in a way that will appeal to a wider audience. 

Notes for editors 

The Sussex Salon debate – ‘Whole life sentences – should life mean life?’ – takes place on Tuesday 4 November 2014 at 7.30pm in Brighton Dome Studio Theatre, New Road, Brighton. You can book tickets online or by calling Brighton Dome ticket office on 01273 709709. Please book in advance to avoid disappointment. 

The Sussex Salon debates are organised by the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex in association with Brighton Dome 

Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival manages a year round programme of arts at Brighton Dome – a three space, Grade 1 listed building made up of the Concert Hall, Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre - and produces the annual Brighton Festival in May. It aims to champion the power of the arts, to enrich and change lives, and to inspire and enable artists to be their most creative. Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival are a registered arts charity. Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival are working with the Royal Pavilion & Museums on a joint masterplan to realize a future vision for the Royal Pavilion Estate. For updates and news please visit or contact to be added to their mailing list. 

University of Sussex press office contacts: James Hakner and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678888. Email 

Brighton Dome press office contacts:

Emma Robertson, Head of Press and PR - | 01273 260 803

Chris Challis, Senior Press Officer – | 01273 260838

By: James Hakner
Last updated: Tuesday, 4 November 2014