Whole life imprisonment breaches human rights

On 9th July 2013, murderer Jeremy Bamber and two other prisoners serving whole life sentences had their cases considered by the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled that a whole life term, if it is to remain compatible with Human Rights legislation, prohibiting inhuman and degrading treatment, must allow possibility of review after, say, 25 years.

The lack of review mechanism for the whole life term of imprisonment was considered to amount to inhumane and degrading treatment and breached the article; there has to be a mechanism for release and a review process a prison sentence for it to be compatible with the law.  The review procedure does not however mean there was “any prospect of imminent release”.

We support this decision because, in our view, England and Wales should respect the European Court. It is interesting to note that the only other country in Europe that uses the whole life term without a review procedure is Holland.

We also support this decision because although we recognise that some offences due to the very nature of them justify a whole life term of imprisonment, those subjected to a whole life sentence should be subject to review at some point and not written off forever. If anything else the carrying out a review may offer an offender an incentive to behave and to seek to demonstrate his or her opportunity to change.

A review does not mean release.

It simply means that the case is reviewed and it is very likely that the most serious offenders will simply be required to remain in prison for life.

In a knee jerk reaction to the European Court’s decision, ministers have been quick to condemn it and suggest that the role of the European Court of Human Rights should be ‘curtailed’.

So, the government’s answer to a Human Rights decision they don’t like is: let’s take away people’s human rights.

A spokesperson for David Cameron says that he is disappointed in the ruling and is a supporter of whole life sentences.

This is not the debate, the debate is if these offenders should have the right to a review process.

Surely, if you are told you will spend the rest of your life in prison without ever having the chance to be reviewed, you will have no incentive to behave within the prison system.

The court has not said that life sentences are wrong, nor have they said that these offenders should be released. It simply says that they should have the chance to have their sentence reviewed.

In playing politics it is possible that in seeking favourable publicity the whole point gets lost and everyone’s fundamental rights get forgotten.