England & Wales is one of just two places in Europe - the Netherlands being the other one - which hands out whole life tariffs to some prisoners, meaning they are imprisoned for the rest of their natural lives, with no chance of parole. Whole life tariffs are a direct replacement for the death penalty.
But some British criminals who are currently serving whole life tariffs - such as the killer Jeremy Bamber - have appealed to the ECHR that their sentences breach their human rights. The ECHR agrees with them and has told the UK that it must stop jailing prisoners for the rest of their lives.
The British Government is against stopping whole life tariffs so, in a clever move to get round it, parliament is looking at introducing sentences lasting hundreds of years instead. Such sentences will still be almost exactly the same as whole life tariffs - prisoners will still be sentenced to spend the rest of their natural lives in prison - except they could still be potentially eligible to have their sentence reviewed and reduced, meeting ECHR guidelines.
The judge presiding over the trial of Lee Rigby's murderers wants to sentence Adebolajo and Adebowale to spend the rest of their lives in prison, but has had to postpone sentencing until later this month whilst the row continues between Britain and the ECHR.
Within the UK, England & Wales alone has more people serving life sentences - 13,000 - than all other European countries put together. The UK also has Europe's biggest prison population.
Murderers could get hundreds of years in jail to get round European Court ban
Murderers and other offenders convicted of very serious crimes could be given US-style jail sentences lasting hundreds of years to get round a ban by European human rights judges, The Telegraph can disclose
Mark Bridger, who was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison in May 2013 for murdering schoolgirl April Jones
By Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent
02 Jan 2014
Murderers and other serious criminals could be given US-style jail sentences lasting hundreds of years to get round a European human rights ban on whole-life terms, The Telegraph can disclose.
Ministers are considering a change in sentencing rules to allow judges to rule that offenders should spend decades and even hundreds of years in jail.
The plan is part of the UK Government’s ongoing confrontation with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The proposed change to sentencing comes as Conservative ministers prepare to publish the party’s proposals to overhaul the UK’s human rights laws.
They will suggest reforms to ensure Britain’s Supreme Court is the final arbiter on human right cases, not the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The Conservatives want to ensure that Britain’s Supreme Court is the final arbiter on human right cases in Britain, not the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Current English law allows judges to impose “whole life” tariffs, effectively sentencing a criminal to die in jail.
However, the Strasbourg court said last year that such sentences are a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, because there was no possibility of a "right to review".
The court ruling means at least one multiple murderer has avoided a whole-life sentence.
The Government is considering its response to the ruling on whole life tariffs.
The Telegraph can disclose that one of the options underconsideration by ministers is to allow judges to jail criminals for hundreds of years.
Britain has Europe's highest prison population and has more prisoners serving life sentences than the rest of Europe put together
The effect of such terms would generally be the same as a whole-life term. Crucially, however, a British criminal sentenced to, say, 100 years in jail, could still be potentially eligible to have their sentence reviewed and reduced.
Very long sentences are often imposed in several US states as an alternative to the death penalty. Ariel Castro, who kidnapped three women in Ohio, was last year sentenced to 1,000 years in jail. He later committed suicide.
There are currently 49 criminals serving whole life terms in the prison system of England and Wales.
One of them is Mark Bridger, 47 was sentenced to life in prison in May of murdering Welsh schoolgirl April Jones. He lodged an appeal in December against his whole life term.
However, another killer escaped such a sentence because of the ECHR ruling against whole-life terms.
Ian McLoughlin, 55, was told he must serve a minimum of 40 years, after he admitted murdering Graham Buck, 66, in Hertfordshire in July, when he was on day release from a murder sentence. Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, is due to appeal against that sentence.
Lawyers at the Ministry of Justice are now looking at whether the law needs to be changed to allow judges to hand down US-style sentences to serious offenders.
Another option is for ministers to ask the Sentencing Council to draw up a definitive framework for how the system will operate.
A Government source told The Telegraph: “The European Court of Human Rights seems to making decisions a million miles away from what the vast majority of the public think.
“They don’t want there to be any possibility of the most horrible of criminals walking the streets again, and this plan could be a way to make sure that doesn't happen.”
Limiting the influence of the Strasbourg court on British life is a key Conservative ambition, and reforms will be proposed in the party’s election manifesto in 2015.
The reforms have been drawn up by a committee, chaired by Damian Green MP, a minister in the Home Office.
The Tories believe they can detoxify the idea of human rights by stopping the Strasbourg from ruling on cases and creating new legal precedents which British courts have to follow.
Other members of the review panel include Lord Howard of Lympne, the former Home secretary, Dominic Raab MP, Charlie Elphicke MP, a specialist QC and a law professor.
The proposals are based on a Private Members’ Bill proposed by Mr Elphicke in the House of Commons in March last year.
The full document – which runs to 20 pages, setting out the plans will be published in a few weeks – is understood to have been sent to David Cameron, the Prime Minister.
A source said the review was “pithy, to-the-point and problem-solving”.
The principles of the European Convention will be written into the new Bill of Rights. A passage in the 1998 Human Rights Act which requires minsters to have regard to the European Court of Human Rights will be dropped.
The changes would allow Britain to remain a signatory to the European Convention, but would mean that the Supreme Court will be the final arbiter of complex human rights cases, not the ECHR.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Green said: “British laws must be made in Britain. I want to restore the respectability of human rights.
"I think it is absurd and damaging that the phrase human rights has become a ‘boo’ phrase.
“It is a sign of system that has gone horribly wrong that a phrase that should be motherhood and apple pie has now gone as badly wrong as health and safety.”
He signalled that the Conservatives wanted to be seen as defenders, not repeated critics, of human rights law.
Mr Green said: “There is absolutely a Conservative case for human rights – they are the base of any democratic free society that any Conservative wants to see.
“This is not a technical or legal issue – this is a really big moral issue that we have got to restore human rights to their appropriate non-controversial place.
“The whole political spectrum in this country believes in human rights. This should not be a political issue in a country like Britain.”
Murderers could get hundreds of years in jail to get round European Court ban - Telegraph