Whole-Life Sentences Are Legal, Say Judges

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Life can mean life, Court of Appeal judges have ruled, following a European Court of Human Rights decision which said they were “unlawful”.

Delivering the ruling, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas said judges could continue to give whole-life sentences for the “most heinous” crimes.

The decision follows a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in July, which said whole-life sentences were unlawful because there was no prospect of review. It sparked an angry backlash from many UK politicians including David Cameron.

However, the Court of Appeal has found that the UK system of whole-life sentences does allow for a review and judges should be confident to continue using them for the most serious crimes.

Lee Newell, 45, was challenging the whole-life term imposed on him in September at Warwick Crown Court after he was convicted of killing child murderer Subhan Anwar in prison when already serving a life sentence for a 1988 murder.

Adebolajo & Adebowal

Judges will now sentence Adebolajo and Adebowale for Lee Rigby’s murder

His case was dismissed by the Court of Appeal judges and they also increased the 40-year sentence of the triple killer Ian McLoughlin to a whole-life term.

McLoughlin stabbed 66-year-old Graham Buck to death when the pensioner went to help a neighbour the convict, who was on his first day-release from prison in 21 years, was attempting to rob in the village of Little Gaddesden in Hertfordshire.

The trial judge had said he had been unable to give McLoughlin a whole-life sentence because of the ruling by European judges in Strasbourg.

However, giving the ruling, Lord Thomas said the terms were “entirely compatible” with the ECHR and added: “Judges should therefore continue as they have done to impose whole-life orders in those rare and exceptional cases which fall within the statutory scheme

Dale Cregan

Dale Cregan is serving life for the murder of two policewomen

“Under the statutory scheme as enacted by Parliament, the Secretary of State has power to release a prisoner on licence if he is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist which justify the prisoner’s release on compassionate grounds.”

The sentencing of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale for the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks had been postponed until the outcome of the ruling.

There are currently 49 criminals serving whole-life sentences, including Dale Cregan, who murdered two policewomen in Manchester, Levi Bellfield, the killer of the teenager Millie Dowler, and Mark Bridger, who killed five-year-old April Jones.

Also among the whole-life termers are Jeremy Bamber, who killed five members of his own family, serial killer Peter Moore, who killed four men for fun, and Douglas Vinter, who killed his wife.

They are the men who appealed to the ECHR in July and won their case when the 17 judges ruled their sentences had been “inhuman and degrading” and that they should be entitled to at least a review after 25 years.

The Attorney General Dominic Grieve welcomed the Court of Appeal decision, writing on Twitter:  “I am pleased CoA (Court of Appeal) has confirmed those who commit the most heinous crimes can be sent to prison for the rest of their lives.”

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “This is a timely and welcome decision. Our courts should be able to send the most brutal murderers to jail for the rest of their lives.

“I think people in Britain will be glad that our courts have disagreed with the European Court of Human Rights, and upheld the law that the UK Parliament has passed.”

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