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 289.

    There are many cases of murder in which it is unquestionably clear that there is no defence nor justification for that murder. In those circumstances, the death penalty is the obvious deterrent to others who will contemplate premeditated murder that has no justification - such as acts of terrorism, armed robbery, hijacking , etc. There are many other very clear-cut examples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    re284 Hamish -
    Again I agree with your point to a degree -
    But - tell me how you ever devise a 100% foolproof justice system - it's never existed and never will - whatever the best intentions.
    That is why the death penalty is wrong - because it cannot be revoked - of course you cannot restore someones lost years wrongly convicted - but they are alive,and can be vindicated,and live to see it

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    People dont understand that even a 10 year sentence for life means that after 7-8 years they will get day release and work experience in charity shops and shopping centers. essentially mingling with the most vunerable, the people that can only manage basic jobs. Not to mention open prisons and low category prisons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    266. stracepipe:
    . . . . Bit by bit the sentence for murder has been reduced, so that now, if you commit murder when you're 20, you'll be out before you're 35. According to Nick Clegg, this is progress, but then there aren't many murders in Dore.

    Ha! According to Mr. Clegg, all that an 'offender' has to do is to apologise for his misdemeanors - guilty or otherwise - and then all is forgiven!

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    Lock them up and throw away the key. Too many leftie lib-labs on this site!!!!

    Worse than a death sentence - well the murder victim might disagree with you veggie bugger eating light weights on that......

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    For those who say death penalty is bad because it can't be undone, they are right of course (just like you can't replace years of false imprisonment), but that does not mean we should change the cost of a life to a few years in prison, it should mean our justice system has to work with 100% integrity & responsibility, when a wrongful conviction takes place someone is not doing their job properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    Problem with life terms is there aint enough prison cells to keep prisoners in that long, reason being the EU rules all those foreigners coming over here stealing our prison cells

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    This country is pathetic. Any unlawful killing including by driving should have a minimum of 20 years with manslaughter at 40 years and murder at 80 years. About 0.28% of out prisoners are wholelifers. The government cherry pick a few high profile cases to make it look like they are locking people up but they are not, most murders get 14 years. We need executions. Britain should be ashamed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    re 274 Marlais - whilst I agree with your posts sentiments - the reason they are appealing their sentence is simple - they crave publicity for their 'cause'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Who gave the mindrapist the right to steal a mans life from him by psychological torture worthy of Guantanamo prison.Water boarding without the water?Shame on the NHS and shame on adult social services.One way ticket to Ireland because when public who wants to live in a country that mindrapes.
    A torture technique that is tested in the UK and later on political prisoners everywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    If the worst comes to the worse, simply give them 99 year sentences with the prospect of parole after serving two thirds of their sentence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    Prison is a strange one, do people come out more productive and corrected? If anything it is more likely to leave a lifetime mark on that person's mind & others perception of them.

    As for punishment, at least some people don't seem to mind taking a few years as a cynical price for their crimes.

    Life = Life, not life in prison, let people know taking someone's life will cost them theirs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    The gut reaction in favour of the death penalty for some crimes I can see. Problem is that you can't undo a death sentence if later proved to be wrong (think Guilford 4/Birmingham 6).
    But - for some crimes - life should mean life (or call it a 100yr sentence).
    Main problem this creates is for prison officers - if an inmate knows there is no parole ever - what reason do you have to obey the rules?

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    It's the law of the land. Our Parliament makes the laws. Not some foreign-based court. Nothing more to be said, really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    When they talk about 'Human Rights' they should consider that said same never came into focus when muderers decided to end a human life.

    I'm not sorry. I have no sympathy at all for murderers.

    In fact I'm very angry that they're even considered to still be worthy of 'human rights' per se. It beggars belief!

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    Maybe slightly off the point, but the killers of Lee Rigby seemed to be proudly celebrating the murder quite openly, so why are they appealing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    A minister in Putin’s government presented to Mr Putin an economic plan which if it failed would have caused the Russian people much suffering. So Putin said,
    If your plan does not work i shall have you shot.
    The minister withdrew his plan.
    Yes i think full life sentences are a good thing especially for politicians who fail. they seem to get away with it and get a good pension.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Just set the first parole date 75 years after the date of conviction.

    Should sort most of the problems here out

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    Life sentence is wrong. Death sentence is more fitting to the crime. It would also free up a lot of jail places for those who are let off lightly, because there aren't enough cells available.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    A young girl, brutally raped and murdered; a pensioner battered to death for small change; children in a playground at school gunned down; ethnic cleansing on grounds of faith or ethnicity; differing political viewpoints and so on are all grounds for execution by those who believe themselves above the law. Nobody is above the law. Nobody has the right to take life - else life is forfeit.


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