Sweden's centre-left government was on Wednesday set to give a new legislative proposal the go-ahead. It is expected to get parliament's backing and will then come into force on January 1st, 2020.
Today, 14 years' imprisonment is the standard penalty for murder in Sweden, in cases where there are no other factors to take into account. A life sentence is only handed out in exceptional cases, for example if the perpetrator killed more than one person or if aggravating circumstances apply.
The law change will mean that more external factors can be considered for a life sentence.
“It could be that the perpetrator caused the victim severe suffering, that the method was particularly reckless, that a person close to the perpetrator was the target, that it happened in the victim's home or in front of other people close to them, for example children,” explained Sweden's Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, adding that two thirds of female murder victims are killed by someone close to them.
A majority of convicted murderers will be sentenced to life in jail after the new law comes into effect, according to the minister, with the percentage of life sentences then set to increase from 30 to over 50.
“Murders that previously led to 15 to 18 years in jail will in the future instead give you life in jail.”
Critics of the law change have argued that tougher punishment does not necessarily lead to a decrease in crime. But the justice minister said incarceration was an important factor in and of itself.
“If you are sentenced to life in jail, you will stay there until you are no longer considered to be dangerous,” he said, adding that as long as the convicted murderers are locked up they can not fall back into crime.
A person who is serving life in jail can after a certain period of time apply to have their sentence converted to a time-limited sentence. In practice, a life sentence in Sweden averages around 16 years.
Swedish politicians have previously attempted to get tough on murder. But a separate law change pushed through in 2014 had little effect, which Sweden's Council on Legislation – a body that scrutinizes draft bills before the go before parliament – had warned of. The council had no objections to the new proposal.
Sweden sentenced a total of 128 people to jail for murder last year, 18 to psychiatric care and four to juvenile detention.