Written 21st February 2014 by Olliers Solicitors

The Court of Appeal has this week upheld judges’ rights to sentence the most serious offenders to life sentence with whole life tariffs.

Whole Life Tariffs

The court increased a 40 year tariff on murderer Ian McLoughlin to a whole life tariff, after his trial judge had indicated he was unable to pass such a sentence. It also dismissed an appeal by murderer Lee Newell that his whole-life order had been “manifestly excessive”. The rulings come after the European Court of Human Rights ruled such terms should be reviewed.

Ruling on Tuesday of this week, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas said there may be debate in a democratic society as to whether a judge “should have the power to make a whole-life order”. However, he added that some crimes were “so heinous” that Parliament was entitled to allow whole-life orders “entirely compatibly” with the European Convention on Human Rights:

“Judges should therefore continue as they have done to impose whole-life orders in those rare and exceptional cases which involve whole-life terms.”

However, he said it was “likely to be rare that the circumstances will be such that a whole-life order is required” and the two cases were “exceptional and rare cases of second murders committed by persons serving the custodial part of a life sentence”.


The European Court of Human Rights said last year that whole life terms breached a prisoner’s human rights and there should be some way of having a sentence reviewed after 25 years. The whole life tariff applies to 48 men and one woman – Rose West – whose crimes are regarded as so heinous that they may never be released. But three of those – Jeremy Bamber, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore – appealed to Europe, saying their sentences ‘undermined human dignity and destroyed the human spirit’. Vinter and Bamber additionally claimed their time in jail had left them ‘depressed and in despair’.

In July, the highest body of the European Court of Human Rights, the Grand Chamber, agreed with them. It said refusing them any prospect of release amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment in a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Following the European court’s ruling, the judge dealing with McLoughlin sentenced him to life with a minimum term of 40 years, rather than a whole life term. The case was referred to the Court of Appeal by Attorney General Dominic Grieve to rule whether it should be increased. Reacting to Tuesday’s ruling, Mr Grieve said he was “pleased” the court had “confirmed those who commit the most heinous crimes can be sent to prison for the rest of their lives”. He said:

“I asked the Court of Appeal to look again at McLoughlin’s original sentence because I did not think that the European Court of Human Rights had said anything which prevented our courts from handing down whole life terms in the most serious cases.

“The Court of Appeal has agreed with me and today’s judgment gives the clarity our judges need when they are considering sentencing cases like this in the future.”

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling also welcomed the decision as “timely”, saying courts in England and Wales “should be able to send the most brutal murderers to jail for the rest of their lives”.

Anton Patton

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