Vinter and Others v the United Kingdom

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights yesterday issued its judgment in Vinter and Others v the United Kingdom. 

This multi-applicant judgment addresses the complaint made by Peter Moore about his 'whole life' sentence following his conviction in 1996 for four separate murders of homosexual men.

Mr Moore complained that the irreducibility of a whole life order under English law amounted to a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court applied the previously established principle that '[w]here national law affords the possibility of review of a life sentence with a view to its commutation, remission, termination or the conditional release of the prisoner, this will be sufficient to satisfy Article 3'.

In light of the current composition of English law, which does not provide a dedicated mechanism for the review of whole life orders, the Court concluded that it was 'not persuaded that, at the present time, the applicants’ life sentences can be regarded as reducible for the purposes of Article 3 of the Convention'.

The Court held by 16-1 that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Court included in its judgment an explicit clarification of the meaning of its judgment:

'...the Court would note that, in the course of the present proceedings, the applicants have not sought to argue that, in their individual cases, there are no longer any legitimate penological grounds for their continued detention. The applicants have also accepted that, even if the requirements of punishment and deterrence were to be fulfilled, it would still be possible that they could continue to be detained on grounds of dangerousness. The finding of a violation in their cases cannot therefore be understood as giving them the prospect of imminent release.'