Explainer

Whole-life order: What is the sentence given to Wayne Couzens that will see him die behind bars?

Wayne Couzens has been sentenced to a whole-life order for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard. Credit: PA

Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens will never be released from prison after kidnapping, raping and murdering 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard. After the judge told the 48-year-old he would die behind bars and would not be considered for release, Ms Everard's grieving family said "the world is a safer place with him imprisoned".

Sentencing at the Old Bailey on Thursday, Lord Justice Fulford said the severity of the case was so "exceptionally high" it warranted a whole life order.

Sarah Everard had been walking home after visiting a friend in Clapham, south London, when she was kidnapped and killed. Credit: Family handout

Couzens, who used his Metropolitan Police-issue warrant card and handcuffs to abduct Ms Everard, will now join a list of the country's most dangerous offenders who are expected to die behind bars.

So, what is a whole-life order and how does a judge determine who receives the most severe punishment available in the UK criminal justice system?

What are whole-life orders?

Whole-life orders are the most severe punishment available in the UK for those who commit the most serious crimes.

There are 60 criminals serving whole life orders, according to Ministry of Justice figures to the end of June.

They will never be considered for release, unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.

Convicted criminals must be at least 21 to receive a whole-life order.

Which criminals have received whole-life orders?

Milly Dowler’s killer, Levi Bellfield, is thought to be the only criminal in UK legal history to be serving two whole-life orders – for her murder, the killings of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange as well as the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

Milly Dowler was abducted and killed by Bellfield Credit: Surrey Police/PA

Other notorious criminals serving whole-life orders include:

Before they died, Moors murderer Ian Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, and doctor Harold Shipman – thought to be one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers – were also among those serving whole-life orders.

Rose West is thought to be one of only three women to have been given a whole-life order when she was jailed for 10 murders Credit: PA

Are there plans for whole-life orders to be reformed in the future?

In the past, home secretaries could issue whole-life tariffs - but these are now determined by judges.

Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, the government is trying to expand the use of whole-life orders for the premeditated murder of a child.

The reforms would also allow judges to hand out the maximum sentence to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, such as for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life.