A major revolt against Europe’s influence over British affairs was triggered tonight after judges in Strasbourg ruled that “life means life” sentences given to the most heinous criminals breach their human rights.
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By David Barret, Home Affairs Correspondent
10:00PM BST 09 Jul 2013
The European Court of Human Rights agreed that a “whole life” tariff, which forces murderers to die in jail, was “inhuman and degrading” after an appeal was brought by Jeremy Bamber, who killed five members of his family in 1985.
The court proposed that those serving life with no possibility of parole should have their cases reviewed after 25 years, following which they could be freed.
The decision means that prisoners serving whole life tariffs, including some of Britain’s most notorious killers such as Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, and Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, could be granted permission to seek parole.
The ruling prompted a furious reaction from the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary. But ministers have no right of appeal against the ruling and the Government has six months to act upon the decision.
David Cameron said that he was “very, very disappointed” and “profoundly disagrees” with the court’s decision.
Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, said the original authors of the human rights laws, which were drawn up in the Fifties to avoid a repeat of atrocities witnessed during the Second World War, would be “turning in their graves”.
One Conservative MP, reflecting widely held views on the Tory back benches, said that Strasbourg’s “toxic” and “perverse” decision strengthened the case for Britain to pull out from the European court and even leave the human rights convention altogether.
Bamber, 52, won the case alongside two other murderers serving whole life terms: Douglas Vinter, who stabbed his wife to death less than three years after being released from jail for a previous murder; and Peter Moore, a serial killer.
Mr Grayling said: “The British people will find this ruling intensely frustrating and hard to understand.
“What the court is saying is that a judge can no longer tell the most appalling criminals that they will never be released.
“I think the people who wrote the original human rights convention would be turning in their graves at this ruling. I profoundly disagree with the court and this simply reinforces my determination to curtail the role of the court of human rights in the UK.”
Dominic Raab, the Conservative MP who is campaigning for human rights reform, said: “This is another nail in the coffin of the Strasbourg court’s reputation.
“It highlights the need to overhaul our human rights laws, and insulate Britain from such perverse and arbitrary European rulings. It shows the warped moral compass of the Strasbourg court that it allows three brutal murderers to sue Britain for ‘inhuman treatment’ for jailing them for life to protect the public.
“It is a gross distortion of the European Convention, an attack on the UK’s democratic right to set its own criminal justice policy, and toxic for the reputation of human rights with the public.”
Paul Bone, the father of Pc Fiona Bone whose killer, Dale Cregan, was given a whole life tariff last month, said: “I feel quite disgusted by this. In the dim and distant past we were told life would mean life, but it has been degraded ever since.”