O’Neill v Her Majesty’s Advocate: HCJ 9 Mar 1999

The appellant pleaded guilty to an assault with a knife upon a stranger. He had a previous conviction for assault causing severe injury and permanent disfigurement, and two previous convictions for inter alia attempted murder and assault. He had committed the offence libelled while on licence from a sentence imposed for an offence that he had committed while also on licence. He appealed his sentence of life imprisonment with a fixed minimum under the Act of 7 years. The assault on the complainer in this case fitted into a pattern of aggressive behaviour when the appellant was drunk.
Held: The purpose of the Act is to determine the punitive period which the prisoner must serve. After that period is over, the prisoner’s detention on the ground of the protection of the public must be reviewed by an independent body. The appropriate determinate sentence, ignoring the element of protection of the public, would be six years and the minimum period required to be served as punishment before he could be released on licence would have been three years. In the absence of any particular circumstances indicating that a longer period should have been selected, the appropriate period for the sentencing judge to designate would have been three years.


Lord Justice General and Lord Coulsfield and Lord Sutherland


1999 SCCR 300, [1999] ScotHC 52


Bailii, ScotC


Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 2(2)




CitedThynne, Wilson and Gunnell v The United Kingdom ECHR 25-Oct-1990
The applicants, discretionary life prisoners, complained of a violation on the ground that they were not able to have the continued lawfulness of their detention decided by a court at reasonable intervals throughout their imprisonment.
Held: A . .
CitedWeeks v The United Kingdom ECHR 2-Mar-1987
The applicant, aged 17, was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to life imprisonment in the interests of public safety, being considered by the trial judge on appeal to be dangerous.
Held: ‘The court agrees with the Commission and the . .
CitedRegina v Marklew, Lambert CACD 6-Apr-1998
Appeals from life sentences imposed on youths for offences of arson. . .
CitedCronin v Her Majesty’s Advocate 1993
The imposition of a discretionary life sentence is an exceptional disposal justified only where the accused presents a serious threat to the safety of the public or where that sentence is in his own best interests. . .

Cited by:

CitedNeil Grant Murray, Mark James Hartley and Steven Simpson v Her Majesty’s Advocate HCJ 19-Sep-1999
The defendants appealed against sentence. The first and second were youths who had been convicted of a vicious and homophobic murder, and had been sentenced to be detained without limit of time. The third had also been convicted of a savage and . .
CitedWright v Her Majesty’s Advocate HCJ 2-May-2003
The defendant appealed his sentence of life imprisonment for assault and attempted rape, with a minimum of twelve years to be served. The trial judge was right in deciding that, because of the risk that the appellant presented to women, a . .
CitedAnsari v Her Majesty’s Advocate HCJ 2-May-2003
The applicant assaulted and abducted an innocent passer-by, a young woman of 23, in the streets of Aberdeen and drove her, bound and gagged, to his house in Leith where he stripped her naked and assaulted and raped her. He was sentenced to life . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Criminal Sentencing

Updated: 06 June 2022; Ref: scu.170955