Three convicted murderers, including multiple killer Jeremy Bamber, have submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights opposing the principle of whole life tariffs.
The trio claim that condemning them to die in jail amounts to “inhuman or degrading treatment” and argue their sentences should be open to regular review.
Officials in Strasbourg have agreed to hear their cases, with the Government vowing to “fight tooth and nail” to oppose them.
The Ministry of Justice is now preparing documents for an oral hearing expected in the autumn, with a judgment expected next year. If the European Court rules in favour of the killers, it means they have a chance of being released along with the 38 other inmates serving whole life orders in prisons in England and Wales.
Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke said: “The Government will argue strongly that this application should be rejected. It goes without saying that the Government will be fighting the case vigorously and defending the principle of the whole life tariff.
“There will always be a small number of prisoners whose crimes are so appalling that judges rule that they should never become eligible for parole. Their decisions should be upheld.”
Bamber’s legal team, which is also representing convicted killers Peter Moore and Douglas Vinter, submitted the application to the ECHR in December 2009. They claim that irreducible sentences, where the offender’s good behaviour or successful rehabilitation cannot lead to a review of their prospect of release, breach Articles 3, 5 and 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Under current law, whole life tariff prisoners will almost certainly never be released from prison as their offences are deemed to be so serious. They can only be freed by the Secretary of State, who can give discretion on compassionate grounds when the prisoner is terminally ill or seriously incapacitated
Bamber has been behind bars for 24 years for shooting his wealthy adopted parents, June and Neville, his sister Sheila Caffell and her six-year-old twin sons Daniel and Nicholas at their farmhouse in Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex.
The 50-year-old was given a whole-life tariff after being convicted of the murders in October 1986. Bamber has always protested his innocence and claims his schizophrenic sister Ms Caffell shot her family before turning the gun on herself in a remote Essex farmhouse.