European judges have ruled that life can never mean life, as removing the chance of release for even the most dangerous offenders is a breach of human rights.
Murderers Jeremy Bamber, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore have been told by the European Court of Human Rights their whole life sentences amount to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.
Whole-lifers should be entitled to a review of their sentence after 25 years at the very latest, the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg-based court said.
The ruling by 17 judges from across Europe sparked further outrage among critics of the court despite reassurances that the decision did not amount to grounds for imminent release.
Under current UK law, whole-life tariff prisoners will almost certainly never be released as their offences are deemed to be so serious.
They can be freed only by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who can give discretion on compassionate grounds when a prisoner is terminally ill or seriously incapacitated.
The ruling comes shortly after Home Secretary Theresa May voiced her frustrations with the European courts in the House of Commons in the wake of the lengthy and costly fight to deport radical cleric Abu Qatada.
Mrs May said something had to be done to address the “crazy interpretation of our human rights laws” to prevent similar battles from happening again – and placed much of the blame on the European Court of Human Rights.
She said: “I have made clear my view that in the end the Human Rights Act must be scrapped.”