Jeremy Bamber appeal to be heard by Europe

6 June 2013

Essex man Jeremy Bamber has won the right right to appeal to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights over whether it is lawful for him to be kept in prison subject to a whole life tariff.

Mr Bamber and two others have won the right to appeal, and their cases will be a test of whether the current law in the UK allowing those who are perceived to be the most dangerous offenders, to be kept in prison for the rest of their lives, however long that should be.  It is understood that the appeal cases will centre on an argument that whole life tariffs breach the European Convention of Human Rights and amount to a breach of Article 3 namely that it amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The appeals come after European Court Judges ruled in January that it was not "grossly disproportionate" for the most dangerous offenders to be subject to indefinite detention.

Mr Bamber was convicted in 1986 for the murders of his adoptive parents, his sister and her two young children.  Mr Bamber has always maintained his innocence and has submitted appeals to challenge his convictions.

This current appeal however is on a different legal point, but in no way concedes his continuing assertion that he was wrongly convicted.

Currently prisoners subject to a whole life tariff will not be released from prison due to the fact that their offences are deemed to be so serious.  They can only be released by the Justice Secretary if there are deemed to be compassionate grounds.  Mr Bamber challenges the decision made by the Home Secretary at the time of his sentence, who, when imposing a whole life tariff, went beyond what the trial Judge had indicated would be the appropriate tariff. 

Mr Bamber at the age of 51 has so far served 26 years behind bars for the killings.  At trial he maintained that the person responsible for the killings was his sister Sheila Caffell who was schizophrenic, and had killed her parents and twin sons before shooting herself.

Two other men, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore make similar applications to the Grand Chamber challenging their own whole life tariffs.  On the previous occasion that the European Court considered these issues in January 2012 the Court held, on a 4 to 3 majority, that there had been no violation of Article 3, however the three dissenting Judges said that it was "necessary to have a suitable review mechanism in place".  It was their view that the lack of any appeal process took away from whole life prisoners "any hope for the future, however tenuous that hope may be". 

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, states that the government is strongly opposed to any change of the law and that they will fight the case vigorously to defend the principle of the whole life tariff.

The Court have yet to allocate a hearing date but it is anticipated it will be later this year.