ECHR whole-life tariffs judgment (Vinter and Others v UK)
The European Court of Human Rights has today handed down its judgment in the case of Vinter and Others v. United Kingdom (Application nos. 66069/09 and 130/10 and 3896/10). The cases concerned the applicantsâ complaint that their imprisonment for life amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment as they had no hope of release.
Vinter and Others v. United Kingdom  ECHR 023
In a 4-3 majority, the Chamber held that there had been no violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of any of the three applicants.
The Applicants were three life sentence prisoners with "whole life" tariffs, which means they will never be considered for release other than on compassionate grounds, with a test which is almost never reached. They argued that such a sentence without review was inhuman and degrading and thereby a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The sentence not only resulted in lifelong imprisonment but the denial of any hope.
The Court recognised that such sentences were not available anywhere else in Europe, except in a very small number of cases in the Netherlands, and were contrary to the trend in penal culture and various international instruments. Nevertheless, whole life prison sentences were not of themselves inhuman or degrading and it was not argued in any of the cases that the point had been reached when the detention had become such as a matter of fact.
The Chamber held by a bare 4-3 majority that there had been no violation, the minority agreeing with the Applicants that the lack of a review mechanism violated Article 3, from the outset of the sentence. The Applicants will now ask for a referral to the Grand Chamber for a review of the judgment.
UPDATE 19/7/12 The Grand Chamber hearing on the case will take place on 28 November 2012 at 9.15am more
> 17/1/12 - Strasbourg backs whole life tariffs for murder (Solicitors Journal) - article includes details of how the minority three dissenting judges deliverered a separate Art 3 ruling finding "that imposing whole life tariffs amounted to 'inhuman and degrading' treatment for the purposes of article 3 of the Convention."