U.K. Told by European Court to Review Murderers’ Life Terms

The European Court of Human Rights said life sentences for three convicted U.K. murderers without the possibility of a review constituted inhumane treatment.

The Strasbourg, France-based court said a review of the sentences must be offered to Douglas Vinter, Jeremy Bamber and Peter Moore, who were all convicted of murder. This shouldn’t be understood as giving the prospect of imminent release, the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, which hears appeals from the main court, said in a statement on today’s ruling.

The court said the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, which removed the possibility of a review, amounted to degrading treatment because there was no hope of release. The ruling reignited a debate with the U.K., where some politicians have suggested pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights over perceived challenges to British sovereignty.

“I profoundly disagree with the court and this simply reinforces my determination to curtail the role of the Court of Human Rights in the U.K.,” Chris Grayling, the U.K. Justice Secretary, said in an e-mailed statement. “The British people will find this ruling intensely frustrating and hard to understand.”

The court was established in 1959 to enforce the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects personal freedoms and bars torture and inhumane or degrading treatment. It has been able to overrule British courts’ decisions since it was ratified by the country in 1966.

Brutal, Callous

The court had previously dismissed the three men’s appeals on grounds that the murders were “particularly brutal and callous.” This followed a similar ruling from the U.K.’s High Court in 2009.

Bamber was convicted of killing his adoptive parents, sister and her two young children in 1985. Vinter, who had already been convicted of killing a work colleague in 1996, was found guilty of murdering his wife in 2008. Moore was convicted of killing four men in 1995.

“The repeated calls to withdraw from the European Convention carry a huge risk of undermining the U.K.’s reputation abroad,” a Rebecca Niblock, criminal lawyer at Kingsley Napley LLP, said in an e-mailed statement. “Making political capital at the expense of the rule of law is a dangerous game.”

The U.K. will have to decide when reviews of the life sentences will take place, the ECHR said.

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