Human Rights Act may bring Hindley freedom

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The moors murderer Myra Hindley may have to be released under the new Human Rights Act, the Lord Chief Justice said yesterday.

The moors murderer Myra Hindley may have to be released under the new Human Rights Act, the Lord Chief Justice said yesterday.

Lord Woolf said a declaration by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, that "life should mean life" for Hindley was "wrong" and that her case had not been dealt with correctly.

In an interview in the New Statesman, Lord Woolf criticised government policy on law and order, including proposals for fixed penalty fines and proposals to lock up people with severe personality disorders who have not been convicted of a crime.

He also said he supported the House of Lords decision to kill the Bill that had proposed to restrict a defendant's right to a trial by jury. And he was troubled that ethnic minorities did not have confidence in magistrates to determine a defendant's guilt. "We should have tackled that lack of confidence first."

He described the second Mode of Trial Bill as "worse than the first" because it did not allow the court to take account of a person's character and record. Lord Woolf warned the Government to leave the criminal justice system alone for a while, saying: "There is a great danger that the system becomes punch drunk." But his sternest warning was issued over the Home Secretary's continued insistence on intervening in the sentencing of adult offenders.

The Lord Chancellor has indicated the Government might occasionally refuse to follow Judges' Rules on cases under the Act, a statement used as evidence that Mr Straw might refuse to give up his sentencing power in cases such as that of Hindley.

But Lord Woolf said he expected the Home Secretary to have to cede sentencing powers to the judiciary, whether he liked it or not. "I do not see any Home Secretary, except in the most exceptional circumstances, being prepared to go to Parliament and say, 'We want to pass legislation that is inconsistent with the Human Rights Act'," Lord Woolf said.

"Jack Straw says the ruling does not apply to adults. If he's wrong about that, I would expect him to do what he did in regard to juveniles. He may not like it, but that is what he would do." He would be "very surprised" if Mr Straw's interpretation of law proved correct.

He had told Hindley the Home Secretary was entitled to say he was not going to release her, under existing law. "I suggested the Home Secretary had not dealt with the matter correctly but one has to accept the constraints of the law. I said you could never tell what would happen, so it is not performing your statutory duty to say, 'Life is going to mean life'.

"I see no possible objection to sentencing someone to life, as long as there is in place a proper, objective machinery for review," he said. "We do not have that at present in cases such as Myra Hindley's."