The European court of human rights has found that for a life sentence to remain compatible with article three of the European convention on human rights, there has to be both a possibility of release and a possibility of review.
The court was ruling in an appeal brought by Douglas Vintner, who was convicted of murdering his wife in 2008, that his sentence amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment.
The appeal also applies to the case of Bamber, who murdered his parents, sister, and her two children, in 1985, and Peter Moore, who killed four gay men for his own sexual gratification in 1995.
However, the court has also ruled that there should be no prospect of immediate release for the men.
No imminent release
The panel of 17 judges said: “In finding a violation in this case, however, the court did not intend to give the applicants any prospect of imminent release.”
The judges said it was up to the national authorities to decide when a review should be granted to a prisoner serving a life sentence, but said existing legal comparisons gave support to a review occuring no later than 25 years after the sentence had been given.
Under current UK law, whole-life tariff prisoners will almost certainly never be released from prison as their offences are deemed to be so serious.
They can be freed only by the justice secretary, who can give discretion on compassionate grounds when the prisoner is terminally ill or seriously incapacitated.