Court of Appeal quashes life sentences for three young convicted murderers

The Court of Appeal has quashed life sentences imposed on three young convicted murderers.

In a judgement released today, it ruled the sentences unjust and replaced them with set terms of prison and shorter minimum periods.

The appeals were seen as test cases for sentencing young people - all three were aged under 20 when they committed the offences.

The court said its decision did not set a precedent, and creating laws for sentencing young people was a task for Parliament.

However, it found life sentences were hard for young people to grasp; that the 10-year minimum terms imposed on the three killers could exacerbate the adverse effects of prison; and that subjecting the three to possible recall to jail for the rest of their lives could be unjust.

The three killers are Christopher James Brown and Georgia Rose Dickey, convicted of murdering 19-year-old Jack McAllister in Invercargill in 2017, and Katrina Roma Epiha, convicted for the murder of Maree Nathan at a Christchurch house party that year.

Brown was 19 at the time of the killing and Dickey 16. Epiha was 18.

Instead of life sentences, Dickey was sentenced to 15 years' jail, with a minimum term of seven years and six months; Brown 12 years, with a minimum term of six years; and Epiha 13 years, with a minimum term of seven years.

The court said it was mindful of Sentencing Act requirements that young people convicted of murder serve life sentences, unless it was unjust.

"The Children's Commissioner suggested, and some of the appellants' [lawyers] submitted we should create a special category for young persons," the judgment said.

"We must, however, not trespass upon Parliament's domain... Our judgment does not have the effect of creating a special category for young persons convicted of murder."

Although being a youth was not by itself enough to establish an injustice to avoid a life sentence, mitigating circumstances of the offending and an offender's personal circumstances could count on top of their age, the court said.

The appeals were heard in July. The court had reserved its decision.