Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Court Rules against U.K. in 3 Convicts' Life Terms ; European Judges Order Review of Cases on Basis of Violations of Rights

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Court Rules against U.K. in 3 Convicts' Life Terms ; European Judges Order Review of Cases on Basis of Violations of Rights

Article excerpt

The European Court of Human Rights said there should be a review of the three prisoners' sentences, with the possibility that they could be freed.

Britain's fraught relations with Europe's top human rights court worsened when judges there ruled that life sentences handed to three convicted murderers amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment because they had no hope of release.

The decision came Tuesday, just two days after the deportation of the militant Islamic cleric known as Abu Qatada to face terrorism charges in his native Jordan.

That step had been held up for years, partly because of the European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, over worries that evidence obtained under torture would be used against him in Jordan.

Established in 1959, the court rules on claims of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is not part of the European Union's structures, but its judgments are binding on countries that have signed the convention and have led many governments to alter specific laws to comply.

The ruling Tuesday came in a case initiated by three men, all convicted of murders and given "whole-life tariffs" because of the gravity of their crimes. Those receiving such a punishment cannot be released, except at the discretion of the justice secretary on compassionate grounds, for example if a person has a terminal illness.

The judges in Strasbourg ruled 16 to 1 that there should be a review of the three men's sentences, with the possibility that they could eventually be freed, although the judgment said this did not mean there was "any prospect of imminent release." Whether they should be allowed out of jail would depend, for example, on whether there were legitimate reasons for their detention, like on grounds of dangerousness, the court said.

It was the previous Labour government that changed the law in Britain in 2003 to create whole-life tariffs, and it said Tuesday that it wanted to retain such sentences. …

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