Discretionary life sentences

The following Corporate Crime practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Discretionary life sentences
  • Discretionary life sentences
  • Will imprisonment for life be ordered?
  • Fixing the tariff of discretionary life sentences

Discretionary life sentences

Discretionary life sentences

A discretionary life sentence is a life sentence given to an offender in respect of an offence for which life imprisonment (or custody for life) is available but not fixed by law.

A number of offences carry life imprisonment, eg manslaughter, kidnapping, torture and hijacking. However, this does not necessarily mean that an offender will receive a life sentence.

Life sentences are generally reserved for those cases where the culpability of the offender is particularly high or the offence exceptionally serious.

Under SA 2020, s 285, the court is only required to impose a life sentence in respect of an offence which carries a maximum discretionary life sentence where the court is of the opinion that there is a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm occasioned by the commission by the offender of further specified offences and the court forms the opinion that, the seriousness of the offence and/or the offence and one or more offences associated with it is such as to justify the imposition of a sentence of imprisonment for life.

A discretionary life sentence is therefore different to a mandatory life sentence, where the sentencing judge has no option but to impose a sentence of life imprisonment. See Practice Note: Mandatory life sentences.

Guidance on discretionary life sentences can be found in the Criminal Practice Directions, Sentencing

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