Whole Life Sentences – How are they used?

On 30th June 2012 there were 45 prisoners serving whole life sentences. Among some of these are Peter Sutcliffe who is also known as the Yorkshire Ripper, Ian Brady who along with Myra Hindley tortured and killed several young children, Dennis Nilson who murdered 15 young males and Rosemary West who was convicted alongside her husband of 10 murders. Whole life sentences will not be handed down for any crime, only the most serious and disturbing crimes.

In July 2013 the European Court in Strasbourg stated that whole life terms, under English Law, were a breach of Article 3, protection from inhuman and degrading treatment. This was because it was considered not to offer any possibility of release to inmates. This prompted swift review of UK laws by the Appeal Court Judges in the UK.

The case of Ian McCloughlin, a triple murderer who was sentenced in October 2013 also sparked some concerns when the Judge sentenced Mr McCloughlin to 40 years in prison as he felt unable to give him a whole life sentence under UK laws as he thought they were a breach of European laws.

There was a 6 month period of review and in February 2014, the Appeal Court Judges, led by the Lord Chief Justice, said the European Human Rights Judges had been wrong to say British law did not clearly provide whole life inmates with any possibility of release and said that such a power clearly existed in exceptional circumstances. In showing this, the appeal Judges pointed to section 30 of the Crime (Sentences) Act, which provides for the “possible exceptional release of whole life prisoners”, saying it did provide that prospect.

The Lord Chief Justice said;

“In our judgment the law of England and Wales therefore does provide to an offender ‘hope’ or the ‘possibility’ of release in exceptional circumstances which render the just punishment originally imposed no longer justifiable,”

Mr Justice Grayling, who is also Lord Chancellor, said;

“Our courts should be able to send the most brutal murderers to jail for the rest of their lives. I think people in Britain will be glad that our courts have disagreed with the European court of human rights, and upheld the law that the UK parliament has passed.”

Following this review by the Appeal Court Judges the two males who brutally killed Fusilier Drummer Lee Rigby were sentenced. In this matter the trial Judge had adjourned their sentencing following a guilty verdict in December 2013 purposely until after this review had taken place. In this case Michael Adebolajo was sentenced to a whole life term in prison and Michael Adebowale was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Further to this case, it has also been confirmed that Joanne Dennehy who murdered three males would also receive a whole life term. The Judge in this matter said that this crime was “cruel, calculating, malicious and manipulative”.

There are now currently approximately 55 prisoners serving whole life terms in prison. There are currently approximately 83,151 serving prisoners in the UK. When put into context it is clear that this sentence is only ever used in rare circumstances in which the crime is so heinous that it is felt no other sentence can be passed.

At Emery Johnson Astills we have considerable experience dealing with all kinds of prison law matters and criminal cases and can provide you with expert legal advice and representation from the Police Station all the way through the court process and sentencing.