Vinter and Others v UK in ECtHR Grand Chamber

28 November 2012

The case of Vinter and Others v UK was referred to the ECtHR Grand Chamber and the hearing took place on 28th November 2012. The cases concern the applicants’ complaint that their imprisonment for life amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment as they had no hope of release.

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 with whole life tariffs.

In its judgment of 17th January 2012, the ECtHR held, by four votes to three, that there had been no violation of Article 3 of the Convention.

The case (covering all three joined applications) was referred to the Grand Chamber at the request of Mr Vinter, one of the applicants. A Grand Chamber hearing on the case took place at the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 28th November 2012.

This is a case of huge importance as it will determine whether or not all 47 Member States can lock up serious offenders for life without any prospect of review or release, and will be a ruling which has repercussions well beyond Europe. The importance of the case was underlined by the attendance of 400 people at the hearing, which was before 19 judges, and the fact that several Governments sent official delegations.

The Applicants argued that all prisoners should be entitled to some prospect of release and that to determine at the outset of a sentence that he or she will die in prison is inhuman and degrading, and therefore a breach of Article 3 of the Convention because it destroys respect for human dignity. A prisoner sentenced to an irreducible lifelong term might be in his or her twenties and could face the prospect of many decades behind bars. No one could determine whether the balance of penological justifications for detention would remain the same 20, 40 or even 60 years hence.

The Government argued that Parliament had determined that for some offences lifelong imprisonment without review was appropriate and it was not for the ECtHR to interfere with this aspect of domestic law.

A webcast of the hearing is available here.

Pete Weatherby QC of Garden Court North Chambers is counsel for Vinter instructed by Simon Creighton Bhatt Murphy solicitors.

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