The Court of Appeal is hearing a major challenge to whole-life tariffs today, following a ruling in Strasbourg last year that life imprisonment without possibility of review breaches article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case involves two killers currently serving whole-life tariffs. Lee Newell was handed the term last year for killing a fellow inmate while already serving a life sentence for murder. In 2004 Matthew Thomas was handed a whole-life sentence for rape and murder after being released from prison for another rape.

The killers cannot be released other than at the discretion of the justice secretary, who will do so only on compassionate grounds.

The case is being heard due to a ruling in European Court of Human Rights in July, which found for a life sentence to remain compatible with article 3 of the convention, prohibiting inhuman and degrading treatment, there had to be the possibility of release and a possibility of review.

The judges will also hear a referral from the attorney general that murderer Ian McLoughlin received an unduly lenient sentence last year following the Strasbourg ruling.

McLoughlin received 40 years for murder while on temporary release from prison, where he was already serving a sentence for murder.

The case is being heard by a panel of five judges: lord chief justice Lord Thomas, Sir Brian Leveson, Lady Justice Hallett, Lord Justice Treacy and Mr Justice Burnett.

James Eadie QC is prosecuting on behalf of attorney general Dominic Grieve. Joe Stone QC is representing Newell and Thomas, instructed by solicitor Michael Purdon. McLoughlin is represented by Kevin McCartney QC.