Miscarriages of JusticeUK

European court upholds, 'Death by Incarceration' of Jeremy Bamber

"Both the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice set my minimum tariff as 25 years. Quite why the Home Secretary felt that I should die in jail when the judges felt otherwise is a mystery. To then be told by the European Court that it was reasonable and fair for the Home Secretary to re-sentence me to die in jail is quite extraordinary. This ruling does not really surprise me; it is no different to the injustice of my conviction. The evidence upon which the Crown have built their case is no longer credible, yet my imprisonment must continue until I'm dead, as evidence of my innocence cannot be disclosed because the Criminal Cases Review Commission have refused to request it from Essex Police.

I will continue to campaign to prove my innocence and I am hoping that this will happen before my death sentence is carried out. If the State wishes to have a Death Penalty, then they should be honest and re-introduce hanging. Instead, this political decision that I must die in jail is the Death Penalty using old age or infirmity as the method. It is a method whereby I'm locked in a cell until I'm dead - no matter if it should take 70 or 80 years to happen - I shall be dead the next time I leave jail. This despite that the trial judge said 25 years was punishment enough for a crime I did not commit."  Jeremy Bamber, HMP Full Sutton 17/01/12

In today's (17/01/12) ECtHR Chamber judgment in the case Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom (application nos. 66069/09, 130/10 and 3896/10), which is not flnal", the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, 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 case concerned the applicants' complaint that their imprisonment for life amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment as they had no hope of release.

Principal facts
The applicants, Douglas Gary Vinter, Jeremy Neville Bamber and Peter Howard Moore, are British nationals who were born in 1969, 1961 and 1946 respectively. All three men are currently serving mandatory sentences of life imprisonment for murder.

Mr Vinter was convicted of stabbing his wife in February 2008. While still on parole for a first murder offence (he killed a work colleague), he followed his wife - from whom he was estranged - to a public house, forced her into his car and drove off. When the police telephoned her, Mr Vinter forced her to tell them that she was fine. He also later called the police to tell them that she was alive and well. However, some hours later he gave himself up and confessed that he had killed her. The post-mortem revealed that his wife had a broken nose, strangulation marks around her neck and four stab wounds.

Mr Bamber was convicted of shooting and killing his adoptive sister and her two young children in August 1985. It was alleged that he had committed the murders for financial gain and had tried to make it look as if his adoptive sister had carried out the crime, then killed herself.

Mr Moore was convicted of stabbing four men with a large combat knife between September and December 1995. The four victims were all homosexuals and Mr Moore allegedly killed them for his own sexual gratification.

When convicted the applicants were given whole life orders, meaning they cannot be released other than at the discretion of the Secretary of State on compassionate grounds (for example, if they are terminally ill or seriously incapacitated). The power of the Secretary of State to release a prisoner is provided for in section 30(1) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. Under this Act it was practice for the mandatory life sentence to be passed by the trial judge, who - along with the Lord Chief of Justice - then gave recommendations to the Secretary of State to decide the minimum term of imprisonment (the "tariff" part of the sentence) which the prisoner would have to serve to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence and be eligible for early release on licence. In general, the Secretary of State reviewed a whole life tariff after 25 years' imprisonment. With the entry into force of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, all prisoners whose tariffs were set by the Secretary of State are now able to apply to the High Court for review of that tariff.

Mr Vinter's whole life order was made by the trial judge under the current practice. His appeal against his conviction was dismissed in June 2009. The Court of Appeal found that there was no reason to depart from the normal principle under schedule 21 to the 2003 Act that, where a murder was committed by someone who was already a convicted murderer, a whole life order was appropriate for punishment and deterrence.

Mr Bamber and Mr Moore, convicted and sentenced prior to the entry into force of the 2003 Act, both applied to the High Court for review of their whole life tariffs.

In the case of Mr Bamber, the High Court concluded that, given the number of murders involved, the presence of premeditation, the submissions by the victims' next-of-kin as well as reports on the behaviour and progress he had made in prison, there was no reason to depart from the view held in 1988 by the Lord Chief of Justice and the Secretary of State that he should never be released.

In the case of Mr Moore, the High Court found that the case involved the murder of two or more people, sexual or sadistic conduct and a substantial degree of premeditation and that there were no mitigating circumstances.

The High Court therefore considered that whole life orders were justified in respect of both men. The applicants' appeals were dismissed in 2009 and, shortly after, their applications to certify whether their cases ought to be considered by the House of Lords were also refused.

Decision of the Court
The Court held that in each case the High Court had decided that an all-life tariff was required, relatively recently and following a fair and detailed consideration. All three applicants had committed particularly brutal and callous murders. To date, Mr Vinter had only served three years of imprisonment, Mr Bamber 26 years and Mr Moore 16 years. The Court did not consider that these sentences were grossly disproportionate or amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment.

There had therefore been no violation of Article 3 in the case of any of the applicants.

1 Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day.

Once a judgment becomes final, it is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for supervision of its execution. Further information about the execution process can be found here: www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/execution