UK/Essex: Killer Bamber wins ruling over whole-life jail term
- Credit: PA
Whole-life jail terms without the possibility of review amount to a breach of human rights, European judges have ruled.
Murderer Jeremy Bamber and two other killers, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore, have won an appeal in the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights that their sentences amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.
The 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.
However, the panel of 17 judges added: “In finding a violation in this case, however, the court did not intend to give the applicants any prospect of imminent release.”
The appeal was brought by Vinter, who stabbed his wife in February 2008, and means the cases of Bamber, who killed his parents, sister and her two young children in August 1985, and Peter Moore, who killed four gay men for his sexual gratification in 1995, will also be considered.
In their ruling, the judges said it was up to the national authorities to decide when such a review should take place, however, existing legal comparisons gave support to guaranteeing a review no later than 25 years after the imposition of a life sentence.
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.
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They can be freed only by the Justice Secretary, who can give discretion on compassionate grounds when the prisoner is terminally ill or seriously incapacitated.
The court also found that the current law concerning the prospect of release of life prisoners in England and Wales was unclear.
The judges added whether Bamber, Vinter and Moore should be released would depend on whether there were still legitimate grounds for their continued detention and whether they should continue to be detained on grounds of dangerousness.
Up until 2003, there was a right to review for all whole-life orders in the UK but this was removed in a change of legislation.
Vinter’s lawyer Simon Creighton, of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, said the ruling could not be used as a “get out of jail free” excuse for life-term prisoners.
He said: “It’s very important that the court have recognised that no sentence should be once and for all and there should always be some right to look at some sentences again in the future.
“They have not said that anyone must be released, what they have said is that it must be reviewed.”
Mr Creighton said the court is telling the Government to return to what it was doing 10 years ago.
He said there were “very careful” safeguards in place which must be passed before prisoners can even be considered for release.
“It’s now for the Government to respond,” Mr Creighton said. “My client will look forward to their response with interest.”
Bamber, 51, has been behind bars for more than 25 years for shooting his wealthy adopted parents June and Neville, his sister Sheila Caffell and her six-year-old twin sons Daniel and Nicholas at their farmhouse in Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex.
He was given a whole-life tariff after being convicted of the murders in October 1986.
Vinter was released from prison after serving nine years for the 1995 murder of work colleague Carl Edon, 22 - but just three years later he stabbed his wife Anne White four times and strangled her, and was given a whole-life order.
Welsh serial killer Moore was convicted of four counts of murder in 1996 after killing four gay men across a period of four months.
The ruling comes shortly after Home Secretary Theresa May voiced her frustrations with the European courts in the House of Commons in the wake of the lengthy and costly fight to boot radical cleric Abu Qatada out of the country.
Mrs May said something had to be done to address the “crazy interpretation of our human rights laws” to prevent similar battles from happening again - and placed much of the blame on decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights.
She said: “I have made clear my view that in the end the Human Rights Act must be scrapped.
“We must also consider our relationship with the European Court very carefully, and I believe that all options - including withdrawing from the Convention altogether - should remain on the table.”