The whole area - the Nation - were repulsed by the tragic and brutal murder of young Ellie Gould in Calne, on 3 May 2019. Our hearts went out to her brave parents both at the time, and since then watching them – together with a group of Ellie’s school friends - campaigning for a toughening of sentencing for crimes like this one in several detailed ways. Mr and Mrs Gould have been clever, consistent and determined in their campaign and lobbying. They have been into Parliament several times; we had meetings with Priti Patel as Home Secretary and Robert Buckland as Lord Chancellor; we even had a chance meeting with Theresa May and a brief chat about it all; I have asked questions in the Commons, written letters on their behalf, and have had very many private conversations with the Government Law Officers about it.
And this week we saw the very positive results of it with the publication of the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Second Reading may be as soon as next week, followed by all the other stages in both Commons and Lords; and all being well it should become law with the Queen’s signature by the end of this year. I hope that her family and friends will be proud and pleased that they have achieved what can - at least in part - truly be described as ‘Ellie’s Law’, and which will for all time commemorate her sad death.
It will play a role, I hope in deterring others, and indeed in duly punishing murderers for their crime. Amongst many other very welcome proposals, the Bill will put into law very much of what the Gould family, and Ellie’s school friends were seeking. Seventeen-year-old murderers like Thomas Griffiths will be treated more like adults, especially when they are convicted after they have turned 18; and there will be no automatic mid-term review of their sentencing. Apart from anything else those ‘Reviews’ put the victim’s family through a further great deal of trauma.
One point which is not in the Bill is the change in the rules of premeditation which we sought. A criminal using a weapon which he finds at the scene of the crime (as in Ellie’s case) can use that fact in mitigation, and thereby achieve a lower sentence. The Goulds and I cannot really understand why that fact should make any difference. Murder is as culpable, irrespective of where the murderer found the weapon. The counter argument comes from organisations representing abused women, suffering from domestic violence, who may well grab a knife or a bottle in self-defence. Should their sentence really be as serious as that for a premeditated murder? I wonder if some middle way could not be found using the ‘self-defence’ mitigation? These are matters which the Lord Chancellor tells me he will consider further, although that will not be in time for inclusion in this particular Bill.
Overall, the Lord Chancellor has listened carefully to the points the Gould family and I made and is changing the law of the land as a result. I think that they can be proud that from the appalling tragedy of Ellie’s murder comes a very significant and worthwhile change in the Criminal Justice Law.