Whole-life terms 'not wrong in principle', court hears

Prison European judges ruled last year that whole-life tariffs breached human rights

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Whole-life terms for some killers are "not manifestly excessive or wrong in principle", the Court of Appeal heard.

A lawyer for the attorney general said it would be "unduly lenient" not to impose a whole-life term if justified by the "seriousness of the offending".

The Court of Appeal is considering if such sentences are still legal, with a decision due at a later date.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled the sentences must be reviewed at some point.

But the UK government says whole-life tariffs are "wholly justified in the most heinous cases".

James Eadie QC, representing Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC, said that the Court of Appeal had already set out very clear principles and guidance on how whole-life orders could be imposed.

He said the ECtHR judgement did not remove the right of judges to impose a whole-life term - it only raised a question for the state as to whether there should be a later review.

This appeal really matters because of its legal and political implications. In the wake of last year's European court ruling, some trial judges are no longer clear whether they can still lock up an offender and throw away the key - so it's the Court of Appeal's role to set new guidance.

That guidance will take into account what Parliament has said about the issue, case law down the years, and consider whether Strasbourg has any role to play in the matter.

The political implications are clear: Prime Minister David Cameron has already said that he profoundly disagreed with Strasbourg's ruling on this matter - even though its judges said they accepted the principle of a whole-life sentence.

If the Court of Appeal were to rule that Europe was right - that could lead to more appeals from the worst killers in jail - and an even bigger row with Europe.

"There is no problem," he said. "Whole-life orders are not in principle or nature incompatible [with the European Convention of Human Rights].

"There is no basis for interfering with these sentences."

Controversial ruling

The Court of Appeal is considering three cases.

Lee Newell, who murdered child killer Subhan Anwar, while already in prison for another killing. The judges are also set to correct the record regarding murderer and rapist Matthew Thomas, who was incorrectly told after his trial that he had been given a whole-life sentence.

The attorney general is separately asking the court to give a third murderer, Ian McLoughlin, a whole-life order.

The ECtHR, in Strasbourg, ruled last year that whole-life orders were a breach of human rights, following a successful appeal by murderers Jeremy Bamber, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore.

The court said that while it accepted whole life orders could be justified, there should nevertheless be some way of having imprisonment reviewed after 25 years.

That decision prompted the judge dealing with McLoughlin to sentence him to life with a minimum term of 40 years, rather than a whole-life term.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Grieve said: "This hearing was about preserving the principle that whole life orders can be imposed for particularly heinous and serious crimes. I asked the Court of Appeal to look again at the sentence handed down to Ian McLoughlin as I believed the sentencing judge mistakenly took into account a decision of the European Court of Human Rights which is inconsistent with the domestic legislation and case law by which he was bound.

"I believed the seriousness of this case required a whole life order because McLoughlin had a previous conviction for manslaughter in 1984, a conviction for murder in 1992, and because the murder for which he was being sentenced was committed in the course of robbery."

The outcome of the appeals could determine the future direction of sentencing for the most serious killers in England and Wales, as well as have an impact on the 52 prisoners currently on whole-life terms. It may also affect the men convicted of murdering Fusilier Lee Rigby. Their sentencing has been postponed until after the outcome of this appeal.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    The British should do anything they like, inside Britain, without Europe telling us it is wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    14. Peter_Sym

    I know that not all 'psychopaths' are killers and didn't see the C4 show but have read books on this subject.

    My point is a psychopathic killer will give every impression of having reformed but cannot. That is why 70 or so people in the UK have been killed by convicted murders after they were released.

    Therefore, you cannot ever think a multiple murderer has reformed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I personally dont see the problem with full-life terms, providing they are restricted to the most horrific cold-blooded crimes, and crimes against children.

    @23.avalon, I see you are copying my name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Brevik (Norway shootings) got 21 years plus possible 5 year extensions for killing 77 people. That system was very forward thinking and lenient and was totally inadequate for such an extreme crime. Surely the lesson to be learned there is that there should be special cases of whole life tariff. Such prisoners are often made very comfortable and there can be no question of inhumanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    As Nurse I can kill all my patients on the ward and due to EU-political correctness I would NOT get life anymore. I mean people who committed horrific crimes should be put down or for the sake of the EU-political correctness they MUST SERVE LIFE. The human rights act is being daily abuse by those political correctness people who disregard the concerns of the law biting people and victims x

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I think the idea of whole life sentences needs careful consideration for two reasons. One, if a person commits a serious crime, they may perform much worse crimes as the penalty is the same. The second reason is whether prisons are about punishment, restitution or rehabilitation. Personally I think a life sentence is worse than a death sentence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    @31 - er...have you actuially read the article. That is exactly what's being debated.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Our entry to Europe in the 70's was a trade agreement, not law or democracy. Dont medal with sovereign affairs .Life should mean life, not 1/2 sentence, there should be no review. If we want to let people out early, dont give them life, give 15 or 20 years. Lets review our own tariff structure and give it some proper meaning, instead of the ambiguity which invites the ECHR to try and medal.

  • Comment number 41.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    20. Me
    And just because a sentence is reviewed doesn't automatically mean said prisoner is going to be released.


    And finally, surely a sentence review is the best possible way for a victim's family to express their feelings on the matter.

    Their views on release or further imprisonment could easily be taken into account in any review by means of an impact statement or something similar.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    About time the law establishment did something sensible and what the majority of people in the UK want.
    For far too long they have sided with the criminal and their rights and the views of the liberal elite.
    We want these criminals off our streets and neighbourhoods.
    The leafy, closed gate communities of the liberal elite don't have to suffer the chaos and madness the feckless criminals bring

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    30. tony
    It would be an improvement if ANY sentence was served in the full. Why people get let out after only serving part of their sentence is beyond me.
    Good point. A third off for a guilty plea and then only serve half the sentence imposed by the judge.

    So when does 10 years really mean 5 years ? When it's a prison sentence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Life should mean life, not a walk in the park and get out early because some bleeding heart bleats yet again. If they have committed murder, rape and/or use of a weapon for crime there should be a mandatory life sentence, up for review say in 50 years.The juidicial system in this country is a joke, and with the village idiots in Europe continuously poking there noses in a bigger 0ne.Go away EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    People shouldn't get out earlier because of "good behaviour".Instead they should have time added on if they misbehave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    It's perfectly reasonable to have a sentence reviewed. Obviously in exceptional serious cases, the out of the review would be - you cannot possibly be released. To those who say bring back the death pen, it was a catastrophic failure and certainly not a deterrent. What kind of message does killing someone for killing some send out? The ignorance of some of the respones is astounding

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Isn't it about time politicians started listening to their electorate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    23. avalon
    "Serial paedos and terrorists should not be kept at the taxpayers expense."
    Firstly the definition of 'terrorist' was completely perverted by Blair & co.

    Secondly you'd have hung innocent men (Guildford 4, Birmingham 6)

    Thirdly Al Qu'eda terrorists WANT to die. See Lee Rigby's killers attempted suicide by cop. Keeping them alive is the best punishment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    "Whole-life terms"you can comment
    "UK pay rising in real terms,says coalition"with 1635 comments suddenly shut before people come home from work,wonder why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Why not just have a "life sentence" which means "life" ?

    Problem solved surly ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It would be an improvement if ANY sentence was served in the full. Why people get let out after only serving part of their sentence is beyond me.


Page 13 of 15


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