The British justice system is widely regarded as being either too harsh and wrongly focused or too soft, depending on who you ask. To what extent should the punishment fit the crime? And what form should the punishment take? British laws outline a number of offences that are judged to be worthy of a lifetime in prison for those who dare to commit them. Sentence times are derived either from common law – derived from judicial precedent – or from specific acts, which often produce some of the more unexpected sentences. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Offences that are in breach of common law tend to be the offences you would most readily think of as being equal to a life sentence. They include offences such as murder and attempted murder; manslaughter; hostage-taking; child-destruction, infanticide, rape, kidnapping and deliberately causing a dangerous explosion. Bizarrely, genocide and crimes against humanity have maximum sentences of only 30 years.

However, some offences can land you a lifetime behind bars – although only when committed in context. Any offences ‘relating to the Channel Tunnel trains and the tunnel system’ can warrant a life sentence. Making such an offence substantially worse than those petty crimes against humanity I mentioned earlier. ‘Endangering the safety of railway passengers’ also receives life as does ‘impeding persons endeavouring to to escape wrecks’ – one to know if you’re heading out to sea. Sexual intercourse with a detective carries the same life sentence as intercourse with girls (not boys apparently) under 13, which has a maximum sentence of life. An unnerving disparity is that paying for the sexual services of a child under 13 carries a life sentence, yet those over 13 (but under 16) are protected by just a 14-year sentence for the same offence – as if a 13-year-old is any less vulnerable than a 12-year-old.