Will Cornick was convicted at the beginning of November for the brutal murder of his school teacher, Ann Maguire, in front of his classmates earlier this year. At the time of the murder, Cormick was just 15 years old. He has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, which means that if he serves his full sentence then he will have spent more of his life behind bars than not.
Despite being under the age of 18, Cornick has been treated as if he were an adult. Ordinarily, the identity of an offender under the age of 18 is protected for the individual’s personal safety. In Cornick’s case the Crown Court decided to lift the order that would have protected his identification. The maximum sentence would also have been just 12 years, whereas it is twice as long for an adult.
Cornick’s treatment is perhaps unsurprising given the circumstances of the case. The presiding judge described it as ‘exceptional’. It has been reported that, throughout the trial, the defendant showed a distinct lack of remorse and even commented that the act of murdering his teacher was ‘fine and dandy’. Most notably, Cornick was brought up in a loving and supportive family who according to Greaney, the lawyer for the prosecution, ‘are at a loss to understand how and why their son has turned out as he has’.
Interestingly, the case highlights the relatively stern approach which is taken in Britain with regards to the conviction of murderers. According to the Guardian Newspaper, the UK has ‘more men serving life and indeterminate sentences … than all the other 46 countries in Europe added together’. Penelope Gibbs has been perhaps the most vocal figure to have publicly criticised the sentencing for being too harsh. She is the chair for the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) and has said that ‘we are out of line with the whole of western Europe’.
Gibbs also commented saying that this was ‘the longest sentence given to a child in at least 10 years’ as reported in The Independent. However this statement is unfounded; for example, in 2011, 15 year old Santre Sanchez Gayle was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for the contracted killing of a young mother for just £200.
Yet it is undeniable that the decisions taken by the judge were controversial. At the time of the act, Cornick was a child in the eyes of the law and so it is arguable that he should have been treated as one. Furthermore, the revealing of Cornick’s identity means that he will struggle to detach himself from the label of killer; even if the prison system is successful in his rehabilitation he will likely be treated as one for the rest of his life. Whether he deserves this or not is ultimately a matter for debate.