Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, aged 10 when they attacked two-year-old James with bricks and an iron bar, are to challenge at the European Court of Human Rights their treatment by English justice.
The applications to the binding jurisdiction of Strasbourg judges were prompted by the intervention of an American attorney. He was 'appalled' by the trial of the boys as adults and their sentence to terms of custody set by a politician - the Home Secretary.
James's mother, Denise, from whose side he was abducted in February 1993, said: 'I think the Americans have got a nerve. Let them get a kid murdered over there and see how they feel then.'
Ray Matthews, James's uncle, said the challenges to sentences delivered after a 17-day trial in November were 'shocking'. 'I was in court for each day, and the two boys were treated just like 10-year-old children. We would stop for lunch and breaks just as if they were at school. The Americans . . . are purely in it to gain publicity at our expense.'
The Bulgers raised a petition demanding that Thompson and Venables remain in custody for life. The trial judge and Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, recommended respectively terms of 8 and 10 years as the 'tariff' reflecting a minimum period of imprisonment. Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has yet to set the tariffs for Thompson and Venables. He may ignore the judges' recommendations and can consider 'the public acceptability of release' when deciding if prisoners should be freed after their tariffs have expired.
Lawyers advising the two boys believe the European Convention of Human Rights is violated by the prerogatives exercised by the Home Secretary.
The Strasbourg court, which may take two years to resolve the case, could make a judgment reforming British procedures for dealing with mandatory life sentences. The category includes Thompson and Venables, who were ordered to be 'detained during Her Majesty's pleasure'.
Concern about the treatment of the boys was expressed privately by Liverpool lawyers before the trial over the decision to let them relinquish their right to silence during police interviews. Psychiatric evidence also suggested they could not understand the trial or fully instruct lawyers.
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