Judges defy Strasbourg over life sentences

A panel of five judges have defied the European court of human rights (ECHR) by backing whole-life sentences.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas confirmed prisoners guilty of the "most heinous" crimes should expect to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

The ruling will be viewed as a victory for eurosceptics, who had spoken out against the creeping influence of the Strasbourg court. The government, which had asked the judges to consider the issue, had backed the confrontation with Strasbourg.



It had frustrated eurosceptics over issues like prisoner voting and the deportation of Abu Qatada, and is now insisting no-one in jail should face the prospect of not being let out of prison before they die.

It wants Britain's whole-life tariff to be reviewed after 25 years.

"It's not about saying the whole-life tariff is of itself wrong, it's just that after 25 years there should be the option for a review," Baroness Helene Kennedy told the Today programme.

"It's what I call the 'just in case' situation – it's just to make sure that somebody is in prison rightly. My view is the court today will say there's nothing wrong with that, passing the whole life tariff is fine.

"In 99.99% of cases, nothing will change. The person will continue to remain in prison for the rest of their life. It's a 'just in case' provision. It's about fairness and justice."

Tory backbencher Dominic Raab said the proposed reform went against the right of a "democratic society to say life should mean life", however.

"There are legitimate different views on whether life should mean life," he told Today.

"In any event, whatever your view, it is right that this issue of policy should be decided by parliament and not interfered with by the Strasbourg court, because frankly this has got nothing to do with human rights.

"It's an example of the Strasbourg court… trying to push their progressive agenda via the back door."

The row, which has put the British government at odds with the ECHR, followed appeals by three murderers who argued their whole-life sentence constitute "inhuman and degrading treatment".

Judges in the ECHR's grand chamber agreed with Jeremy Bamber, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore that a review should take place after 25 years at the latest.

But in the court of appeal the panel of five judges backed whole-life terms, increasing murderer Ian McLoughlin's 40-year jail sentence to a whole-life term and dismissing an appeal by murder Ian Newell. He had claimed his whole-life sentence was "manifestly excessive".

Following the ruling, Drummer Lee Rigby's murderers Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale will now learn whether they are to receive whole-life terms. Their sentencing had been put off until after today's judgement.