Whole-life prison tariffs upheld for most brutal murderers

Sentencing for Lee Rigby killers can go ahead as Court of Appeal upholds ‘life means life’ terms

LAST UPDATED AT 13:48 ON Tue 18 Feb 2014

BRITISH courts can continue to impose whole-life prison sentences for the most heinous crimes, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

The "life-means-life" jail term has been handed out in the UK when a crime is so serious that it warrants a sentence with no possibility of parole, but last year the European Court of Human Rights ruled that whole-life sentences needed to be reviewed at least every 25 years, reports The Guardian.

A panel of five judges, headed by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, has been considering if the sentence is still legal in the UK following the ECHR ruling and announced its decision at the Court of Appeal in London today.

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."

The Secretary of State has the power to release a prisoner on licence if he or she is satisfied that "exceptional circumstances" exist that justify the prisoner's release on compassionate grounds, he said.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling welcomed the decision. "Our courts should be able to send the most brutal murderers to jail for the rest of their lives," he said. "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."

The whole-life tariff has been given to fewer than 65 people in total – including Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, Harold Shipman and Milly Dowler's killer Levi Bellfield. Mark Bridger, who killed five-year-old April Jones, and Dale Cregan, who murdered two police officers in Manchester, were also handed the jail term.

Sentencing in a number of high-profile criminal cases had been put on hold pending the judgement. Among them is that of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who murdered Drummer Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks last year. These can now go ahead.

Today’s specific judgements concerned the cases of murderers Ian McLoughlin, who was given a whole-life sentence by the Court of Appeal after an appeal from Attorney General Dominic Grieve, and Lee Newell, who lost his application to have a whole-life sentence reduced. · 

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