Are Whole-life Prison Tariffs against Human Rights?

Despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stating that whole-life prison tariffs are a breach of a prisoner’s human rights, the Court of Appeal has elected to go against this judgment and decide that such terms could still be handed down to the criminals responsible for the most heinous crimes in our society. In this article we will take a look at what the ECHR suggested we do in order to remain lawful with our sentencing.

Basically, the European Court of Human Rights understood that the courts of England and Wales would feel under public pressure to impose whole-life sentences on the most notorious of criminals from time to time; however, it did stress that such sentences would be a violation of the prisoner’s human rights. When people first learn of this judgment, it seems that the hackles come up on the backs of their necks – as the ECHR has imposed yet another unworkable law on our country – but actually, if you sit back and think about this objectively, you should come to the conclusion that what they are saying makes sense.

The ECHR is not saying that whole-life prison terms are unlawful per se; instead, they merely stress that it is not lawful to throw a person in gaol and lock away the key, which pretty much seems to be the stance of this law previously and the most current judgment by the Court of Appeal. The ECHR maintains that it would be more lawful for us to review a prisoner’s tariff every 25 years.

I cannot help but think that what they say in this case makes sound sense. No one is saying that terrible criminals such as Ian Brady or Peter Sutcliffe, for example, should be released from prison after 25 years and allowed to re-enter society; they are only saying that we should at least review the prisoner’s tariff to make sure we are following due procedure and continuing to deprive an individual of his or her liberty lawfully. In a First World, civilised society, I don’t think this is asking for the world.

When a person is committed to a whole-life tariff because of ‘exceptional circumstances’, it would be very difficult for them to secure release at some stage in the future, but the British legal system argued with the ECHR to state that it would not be impossible. Even on such a tariff, a prisoner has some ‘hope’ of being released in the future following a successful application to the Justice Secretary in very specific circumstances. The ECHR continues to maintain that this is far from being the case and that the current law in this regard is unlawful.

Sentencing in some of the most well-known cases at the moment was actually put on the back burner until the Court of Appeal had reached their decision in this regard. This even includes the convicted murderers of Lee Rigby. It seems that the courts wanted to wait and see what sort of sentence could be handed down to these criminals – with preference for the previous system and the ability to pass a whole-life tariff.

The death penalty does not exist in the UK anymore because we have determined that the state does not have the right to take a man’s life in order to punish him for a crime – any crime. Surely, when it comes to a man’s liberty, equal regard should be paid to making sure we follow due procedure.