The blog of ObiterJ - responsible and sometimes critical comment on legal matters of general interest. This blog does not offer legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice.
'The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience. The law embodies the story of a nation's development...it cannot be dealt with as if it contained the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics' - (Oliver Wendell Holmes - 1841 to 1935). Pro Aequitate Dicere
Mr Justice Wilkie has imposed a whole life term on Jamie Reynolds for the murder, on 26th may 2013, of Georgia Williams (aged 17 years 9 months). The facts of the case are particularly disturbing and there can be little doubt that a whole life term is justified. Nevertheless, in the light of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in Vinter v UK (Grand Chamber - 9th July 2013), an interesting point is (yet again) raised.
Having set out the facts of the case, Wilkie J referred to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 section 269 and to Schedule 21 of that Act. He then referred to the cases of Jones  EWCA Crim 3115, Mullen  EWCA Crim 592, Bieber  EWCA Crim 1601 - endorsed by the House of Lords in Wellington  UKHL 72 and also to Oakes  EWCA Crim 2435. The learned judge said:
"In Vinter, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR decided (i) that an irreducible whole life sentence would violate Article 3 if there was no mechanism for a review to consider whether continued detention could no longer be justified on legitimate penological grounds, (ii) in such a case a violation of Article 3 arises at the time that the sentence is imposed, (iii) by virtue of the lack of clarity on the operation of Section 30 of the Crime Sentences Act 1997, which gives the Secretary of State power to release an offender on compassionate grounds, whole life terms imposed in England and Wales cannot be regarded as reducible so that passing one involved a breach of Article 3 of the ECHR..
There is, therefore, a conflict between the European Court of Human Rights decision in Vinter and domestic authority at the level of the House of Lords, now the Supreme Court. I am persuaded that the proper approach for this court is to apply the domestic authorities which are binding on me and to leave the issue of compliance with Article 3, in the light of Vinter, to be determined by the CACD and/or the Supreme Court. In so doing I am adopting the approach prescribed by the Court of Appeal in R (Purdy) v DPP  EWCA Civ 92 at paragraphs. 50-54."
In October, when sentencing Ian McLoughlin for murder, Mr Justice Sweeney adopted the approach that, in the absence of the reviews required by the Vinter case, he was unable to lawfully impose a whole life order - previous post - May a whole life sentence be imposed for murder?
'The Government vigorously defended the case and was disappointed the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR took a different approach to the ruling of the lower Chamber, which found in the UK’s favour. The judgment does not mean prisoners currently serving a whole life order must now be released or that they must all immediately come before the Parole Board for consideration of release. The ECtHR made clear that there was no prospect of imminent release for the three applicants in the case.The Government strongly believes whole life tariffs are appropriate for the most heinous crimes and the judgment did not hold that a whole life tariff is in itself in violation of the ECHR and that therefore such a sentence may not be imposed. Currently, the Government is carefully considering the implications of the judgment and will set out its conclusions and response in due course.'
M Adebolajo and M Adebowale have been convicted of the murder, in May 2013, of soldier Lee Rigby - The Guardian 20th December 2013. Their minimum terms (or, possibly, whole life terms) will be set in early 2014. Mr Justice Sweeney said he would pass sentence after a key appeal court ruling on the use
of whole life terms in January.