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The Court of Appeal has upheld 'whole-life' sentences

View profile for Correna Platt
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Judges at the Court of Appeal have ruled that the most serious offenders in England and Wales can be jailed for their whole life.

This was despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said last year that whole life terms breached a prisoner's human rights and there should be some way of having a sentence reviewed after 25 years.

The current position in the UK is that offenders who receive a whole-life tariff cannot be released other than at the discretion of the justice secretary on compassionate grounds - for example, if they are terminally ill or seriously incapacitated. They are not eligible for a parole review or release.

However prisoners can have their sentence reduced on appeal.

The panel of five judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that the ECHR had been wrong when it reached a conclusion that the law of England and Wales did not clearly provide the possibility that a whole-life prison term could ever be reduced. They said a power of review arose if there were "exceptional circumstances" whereby the offender could appeal to the Secretary of State.

The judgment does clarify the position for many prisoners serving a whole life sentence and for those awaiting sentence for such serious crimes in that it has confirmed that judges can still impose a life sentence.

The Court of Appeal was eager to stress that the ECHR had been mistaken in respect of the position in England and Wales and that a review was indeed possible.

Some may say that the judgment supported the decision in the European Court of Human Rights and did not disregard it. Others will feel that the decision is one that has disagreed with the ECHR and will raise concerns as to the wider implications of the UK’s position in Europe.

By Correna Platt, Partner and head of the appeals team

We are committed to providing assistance to serving prisoners in assessing whether the sentence imposed can be appealed. Please do contact our appeals team if you wish to appeal against a sentence imposed - call 01616 966 229.