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UK appeals court upholds life sentences despite ECHR ruling

A panel of five judges for the UK Court of Appeal [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Tuesday that UK laws do allow for whole life prison sentences, despite a July European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruling [judgment, PDF] finding whole life sentences violate human rights, unless there is a system that requires parole review. In Tuesday's ruling, the court extended a murderer's 40-year sentence to a whole life sentence, overruling the trial judge who refused to issue the whole life penalty. Additionally, the court dismissed an appeal for another convicted murderer, who argued his life sentence was manifestly excessive [BBC report]. The UK Court of Appeal held domestic laws permit whole life sentences and that they are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights [text], while emphasizing that Tuesday's decision turns on specific facts and is not a guide to any similar case:

Although there may be debate in a democratic society as to whether a judge should have the power to make a whole life order, in our view, it is evident, as reflected in Schedule 21 [text], that there are some crimes that are so heinous that Parliament was entitled to proscribe, compatibly with the Convention, that the requirements of just punishment encompass passing a sentence which includes a whole life order.
UK Attorney General Dominic Grieve welcomed [press release] Tuesday's ruling, saying it "gives the clarity our judges need when they are considering sentencing cases like this in the future."

Tension between the UK judiciary and the ECHR has increased recently, as the UK has issued conflicting rulings on major human rights issues and criticized [BBC report] the position of the ECHR, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights among the 47 member states of the Council of Europe [official website]. The President of the ECHR, Judge Dean Spielmann [official website], threatened [Gatestone Institute report] the UK last June with ejection from the EU. The UK has argued the ECHR is as a judicial body that cannot be challenged, and the UK has ruled since 2011 their domestic courts are not bound [JURIST report] by ECHR rulings. In October a claim was filed [JURIST report] in the ECHR against the UK spy agency, GCHQ [official website], based on the agency's surveillance powers.

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