Should Life mean Life?


The European Court of Human Rights has made a recent ruling that a whole life sentence breaches prisoner’s rights under Article 3 (inhumane and degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights.  This is in light of the appeal cases of; R v Jeremy Bamber, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore.  This reverses the lower Courts previous decision in 2012. 

This therefore gives rise to the possibility that a prisoner with a whole life tariff may have the right to a review by way of a parole hearing to ensure their sentence is compatible with Article 3.  However this will not lead to an imminent release or in fact provide a guarantee of ever being released at all.  The Court said that ‘there had to be a possibility of release and of reviewing the sentence.’

A number of factors would need to be taken into consideration in arriving at a decision to release.  The date of the review would be up to each National Authority but in some European States within the Convention the review of life sentences occurs at a set period usually after 25 years of imprisonment.


Whole-Life Sentences are imposed only in relation to the most dangerous offenders.  Prisoners are required to complete courses and address their offending whilst in prison in order to rehabilitate them.  Prisoners may now feel they have the opportunity to work towards something – release, but there may still be no light at the end of the tunnel even with a review in sight.


Reviews and Parole Hearings are a risk assessment designed to assess and establish how a prisoner has progressed to become rehabilitated, reintegrated into society and has also shown remorse.


It is unlikely that the ruling will change the position on release with regards to whole-life tariffs as it is hangs on the decision of the Panel Members of the Parole Board.


We have an experienced prison law department that can answer any queries or questions regarding issues relating to prisoners.  Please contact Emma Davies by e-mail

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