For the full McLoughin judgment please visit: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2014/188.html
The Court of Appeal gave judgment yesterday on the somewhat controversial issue of the human rights of whole life offenders.
At the present time 52 offenders are serving whole life tariff in relation to some of the most heinous crimes. This is a small percentage of people considering that there are around 80,000 offenders in UK prisons.
The debate arose following the human rights case of Vinter in July 2013 in which the UK were found to be in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) which prohibits inhuman treatment or degrading treatment or punishment. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that in order for a life sentence to be compatible with ECHR there must both be a prospects of release and a possibility of review. It was suggested that such sentence review ought to take place after the offenders had served 25 years. On review it would be considered whether the offenders had reformed and whether they were no longer a danger to society.
The UK, however, maintained that the approach in England and Wales was in fact compatible with the ECHR as S30 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 provides that “the secretary of state can at any time release and life prisoner on licence if they are satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances and that as a result such whole life sentence is no longer justifiable”. Therefore whilst there may not be a formal review stage at such those on a whole life sentence do have the possibility of being released.
Many will argue that imposing whole life sentences on the most dangerous of offenders merely creates further danger both to other inmates and prison employees as the “lifers” no longer have any further to lose and therefore there is no incentive to even attempt to reform. Other will argue that such offenders should not be given a second chance to reform when their actions have caused such significant harm and potentially there will always be a risk reoffending.
The Court of Appeal, did in fact find yesterday that the UK were not in breach of Article 3 ECHR and concluded that the courts in England and Wales can continue to hand out whole life sentences where appropriate. This, however, is unlikely to be the end of such debate.
Do you agree?