It was reported in the Guardian yesterday that officials at No 10 are ‘very, very disappointed’ with a ruling that whole-life sentences without review breaches human rights law.
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’.
Yesterday, 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 cabinet ministers have condemned the European Court of Human Rights for its ruling with the prime minister, Justice Secretary and Home Secretary all voicing their “profound disagreement”.
Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, said the ruling would leave the original authors of the European convention on human rights “turning in their graves” and said it reinforced his determination to curtail the role of the Strasbourg court.
“The British public will find this ruling intensely frustrating and hard to understand.”
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said she was dismayed by the decision but also surprised as it went against several rulings last year by the same court, which upheld the extradition of several suspects to face life terms without the possibility of parole.
They found strong support from the former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett, who defended his 2003 decision to scrap the right to a review after 25 years for life-sentenced prisoners, saying he had made it “to ensure that life means life” in the most heinous cases.
Backbench Tory MPs went further, with Dominic Raab claiming it as evidence of Strasbourg’s “warped moral compass”, a “gross distortion of the human rights convention” and “toxic for the reputation of human rights with the public”.