The whole life imprisonment of murderer Jeremy Bamber and two other killers breaches their rights under article 3 of the European Convention, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case’s final judgment today.
The three killers are subject to whole life orders, meaning they cannot be released other than at the discretion of the justice secretary, who will only do so on compassionate grounds.
The ECtHR found that for a life sentence to remain compatible with the article of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting inhuman and degrading treatment, there had to be the possibility of release and a possibility of review.
Given this lack of clarity and the absence of a dedicated review mechanism for whole life orders, the court said the applicants’ life sentences breached the article. However it said this did not mean there was 'any prospect of imminent release'.
The case of Vintner and Others v the United Kingdom was referred to the grand chamber after the killers lost their first hearing in 2012.
Douglas Gary Vinter, Jeremy Neville Bamber and Peter Howard Moore, are British nationals who were born in 1969, 1961 and 1946 respectively.
Vinter was convicted of the murder of his wife in February 2008, having already been convicted of murdering a work colleague in 1996. Bamber was convicted of the murders of his adoptive parents, sister and her two young children in August 1985.
Moore was convicted of the murders or four men between September and December 1995.
Simon Creighton at London firm Bhatt Murphy acted for Vintner, Barry Woods at Leeds firm Cousins Tyrer, for Bamber, and West Yorkshire firm Chivers Solicitors for Howard.
Rebecca Niblock, criminal law solicitor at London firm Kingsley Napley, warned against political overreaction to the decision, saying that a right to have the sentence reviewed is quite different from a right to be released, and that only 49 prisoners are affected.
‘England and Wales lag behind other European countries in the use of the whole life sentence – the only other EU country which uses it is Holland,’ she said.
‘The repeated calls to withdraw from the European Convention carry a huge risk of undermining the UK’s reputation abroad – there is only so much the UK can say to other countries about their human rights records when they show disdain for judgments which go against them at Strasbourg.’