Europe court rules Britain life terms 'inhuman, degrading'

9th July 2013, Comments 0 comments

Europe's rights court on Tuesday ruled that whole-life prison terms imposed in Britain amounted to "inhuman and degrading" treatment, in a case brought by three of the country's most notorious murderers.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said the sentences against Jeremy Bamber, jailed for murdering five members of his family in 1985, serial killer Peter Moore and multiple-murderer Douglas Vinter should include the possibility of review.

The court said the fact that "they had no hope of release" was a violation of their rights but added that the ruling was not intended "to give the applicants any prospect of imminent release".

The three had appealed their whole-life prison sentences -- which mean they cannot be released except at the discretion of the justice secretary or on compassionate grounds -- under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which forbids "inhuman and degrading treatment".

The case was sent to the court's Grand Chamber after the three narrowly lost their first European court hearing last year, with judges voting four to three that there had been no violation of their rights.

In its ruling released Tuesday, the Grand Chamber judges voted 16 to one that in order for life sentences to conform with European rights law "there had to be both a possibility of release and a possibility of review".

It said there was a clear precedent in European and international law for providing for reviews of life sentences after a set period, usually 25 years.

Bamber, 52, has been in prison since 1986 for the killings of his adoptive parents, his sister and her two young children at the family home in Essex. He has always protested his innocence, claiming that his schizophrenic sister carried out the murders before turning the gun on herself.

Moore, 66, is serving the life sentence for the murders of four gay men he stabbed to death in Wales between September and December 1995.

Vinter, 43, was convicted in 2008 of killing his wife while still on parole for a first murder, the killing of a work colleague in 1996.

There was no immediate response from British authorities, but interior minister Theresa May had hit out on Monday at what she described as the "crazy interpretation of our human rights laws" by the European court.

She told parliament that Britain should consider withdrawing from the European rights convention, after the court blocked the deportation of terror suspect Abu Qatada to Jordan.

"We must also consider our relationship with the European court very carefully," May told lawmakers a day after the radical cleric was finally deported following a decade-long legal battle.

"I believe that all options -- including withdrawing from the convention altogether -- should remain on the table," she said.

Britain, which has long had a difficult relationship with the ECHR, has yet to implement a 2005 court order to lift a blanket ban on prisoners voting.

© 2013 AFP

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