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Europe rejects whole-life terms: Court says removing the chance for release is breach of human rights

By Jamie Grierson

European judges have ruled that life can never mean life, as removing the chance of release for even the most dangerous offenders is a breach of human rights.

The ruling will not affect Northern Ireland, which already has a review process on whole-life sentences, but it has angered critics of the court in England and Wales where it will have an effect.

Murderers Jeremy Bamber, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore were told by the European Court of Human Rights that their whole life sentences amount to "inhuman and degrading treatment".

Whole-lifers should be entitled to a review of their sentence 25 years into their term at the very latest, the Strasbourg-based court said.

The ruling by 17 judges from across Europe sparked further outrage from court opponents – despite reassurances the decision did not amount to grounds for release.

Douglas Carswell, a Conservative MP who campaigns for Britain to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, said: "I'm strongly against capital punishment.

"The quid pro quo is if bleeding heart liberals like me are to have our way and outlaw capital punishment, the court must have the power to tell a person they will spend the rest of their natural lives in custody."

The European court found that for a life sentence to remain compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights there had to be both a possibility of release and a possibility of review.

The appeal was brought by Vinter, who stabbed his wife in February 2008.

Under current UK law, whole-life tariff prisoners will almost certainly never be released from prison as their offences are deemed to be so serious.

BACKGROUND

One-eyed cop-killer Dale Cregan is the most recent prisoner to start a whole-life term. But the validity of his term was thrown into chaos after the European Court of Human Rights ruled he must have the right to review for it to fit in with human rights laws.

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