Murderers and those convicted of extremely serious offences could face American style lengthy custodial sentences of more than 100 years under new plans backed by David Cameron. The huge increase in prison terms is one of several ideas being considered by the Government as a means of circumventing what is in effectively a European Court of Human Rights’ ban on whole life tariff sentences.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, commented on Thursday:
“There are some people who commit such dreadful crimes that they should be sent to prison and life should mean life. Whatever the European court has said, we must put in place arrangements to make sure that can continue.”
The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that it is considering a number of ideas in response to the ruling relating to whole life tariffs by the European Court of Human Rights in July 2013.
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’.
European Court of Human Rights
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.
All those subject to a whole life tariff must now be allowed a review, with the prospect of release if they have been ‘rehabilitated’ and are deemed harmless. Tory Ministers criticised the European Court of Human Rights for its ruling, with the Prime Minister, Justice Secretary and Home Secretary all voicing their “profound disagreement”.
The US style sentencing proposal was initially revealed by the Justice and Policing minister, Damian Green. He said:
“British laws must be made in Britain.
“I want to restore the respectability of human rights. I think it is absurd and damaging that the phrase human rights has become a ‘boo’ phrase.
“It is a sign of system that has gone horribly wrong that a phrase that should be motherhood and apple pie has now gone as badly wrong as health and safety.”
Whole Life Tariffs
Senior ministers, including the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, have indicated they wish to give Britain’s supreme court ultimate authority on the interpretation of human rights legislation. The Government, however, has to deal with the implication of the court’s decision on whole life tariff sentences before the 2015 election.
Under the Governmen”s plans, prisoners sentenced to exceptionally long terms would be able to have their tariffs reviewed and potentially reduced, confirming with Strasbourg’s requirements. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice are investigating whether legislation needs to be changed to allow judges to hand down exceptionally long terms.