Whole-life sentences debate continues over prisoners' human rights

Published date: 27 January 2014 |
Published by: Staff reporter
Read more articles by Staff reporter Email reporter


WHOLE-LIFE jail terms came under the spotlight again when leading judges carried out test-case reviews.

The sentences, given to the likes of April Jones’ killer Mark Bridger, who previously lived in Wrexham, and Jamie Reynolds, who murdered teenager Georgia Williams and dumped her body in woods near Wrexham, are for the most heinous crimes and mean the perpetrators must spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

Bridger, who has never revealed where he disposed of five-year-old April’s body after he abducted and killed her in Machynlleth, Powys, indicated he would appeal his sentence but later withdrew the bid.

But now the Court of Appeal is considering if such sentences are still legal, with a decision due at a later date. A panel of five Court of Appeal judges in London on Friday heard an appeal being made by Lee Newell, who murdered child killer Subhan Anwar in prison, and are set to correct the record regarding murderer and rapist Matthew Thomas, who was incorrectly told after his trial he had been given a whole-life sentence.

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

The cases were heard by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, sitting with Sir Brian Leveson, Lady Justice Hallett, Lord Justice Treacy and Mr Justice Burnett.

The central legal issue at the hearing was whether whole-life orders are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECtHR).

The Government has said whole-life tariffs are “wholly justified in the most heinous cases”.

But the punishments were deemed a breach of human rights following a successful appeal to the ECtHR by murderers Jeremy Bamber, Douglas Vinter and North Wales killer Peter Moore.

Last year the trio won a ruling that their whole-life sentences amount to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.

But on Friday a lawyer for the Attorney General said it would be too lenient not to impose a whole-life terms when the “seriousness of the offending” warrented it.

James Eadie QC, representing Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC, said 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.

“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.”

The Attourney General referred the case of Ian McLoughlin to the Court of Appeal to consider whether his 40-year sentence was too lenient.

The judges reserved their decision, which will be announced at a later date to be confirmed and is likely to determine the future direction of sentencing for the most serious offenders in England and Wales, as well as have an impact on the 52 prisoners currently on whole-life terms.

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