Edward Kelly, 39, is one of the first to be jailed under the Crime (Sentences) Act passed last year, which imposes a mandatory life sentence for a second violent or sexual crime.
Kelly was jailed at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court for grievous bodily harm with intent.
The jury heard that last October he crossed the tracks at Caledonian Road and Barnsbury station in north London to attack a man who was involved in a dispute between a gang of youths and a young girl.
Kelly knocked Alex Humphreys to the ground and kicked him repeatedly in the head. He was then seen sitting astride his victim punching him about the head.
Mr Humphreys, a 25-year-old warehouse worker, suffered a broken cheekbone and temporary lack of vision, the court heard.
Judge Fabyan Evans called it a "vicious, unprovoked and prolonged attack" which sickened witnesses.
Under the terms of the Act he had no choice but to impose a life sentence.
Kelly, from Kentish Town, north London, was jailed for 14 years in 1979 for a string of armed robberies on north London banks.
In one raid, Kelly shot a customer in the leg before escaping empty-handed.
Yesterday, Judge Evans said that although the more recent offence was different from the first, and 19 years had elapsed, he had no discretion to impose a shorter sentence.
The Act allows judges in "exceptional" circumstances to order a shorter sentence.
James Sturman, for the defence, said: "No member of the public listening to the facts of the case would say, 'there is a man who deserves a life sentence'."
But Judge Evans said: "In the circumstances the law requires me to pass a life sentence in accordance with the Act.
"I do not see that the facts of the offence, or the original offence, or a comparison between the two, is of any assistance to you."
A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said they believed Kelly was one of the first, though not the very first, to be sentenced to life under the Act.Reuse content