Whole-life jail terms loom for Lee Rigby killers Adebolajo and Adebowale, who will be sentenced next week

Trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney had put sentencing on hold until today’s Court of Appeal decision regarding whole-life terms
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The two men convicted of murdering Lee Rigby will be sentenced next week, after a key ruling was handed down today regarding the use of whole-life jail terms.

Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers could be locked up until they die after the principle of whole-life jail sentences for murderers was backed by senior judges.

The ruling at the Court of Appeal follows a clash between the Government and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over whether “life should mean life” for the most serious offences.

It clears the way for the sentencing of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who were convicted of the off-duty soldier’s murder. The judge in their trial had put it on hold two months ago pending the ruling on whole-life sentences.

A panel of five judges at the Court of Appeal backed the Government’s argument that whole-life tariffs should apply in the “most heinous cases”.

Seven months ago the ECHR said all convictions should include the possibility of release regardless of the offences that had been committed and suggested all cases be reviewed after 25 years.

However, the British judges yesterday said domestic law was compatible with the Strasbourg-based court as prisoners with life sentences could be freed in exceptional circumstances.

They also increased the 40-year minimum prison term being served by killer Ian McLoughlin, who murdered a man while on day release, to life behind bars without prospect of release.

And they dismissed an appeal by Lee Newell that his whole-life tariff had been “manifestly excessive”. Newell received the maximum sentence after murdering a child killer while in prison for another murder.

Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, said: “Our courts should be able to send the most brutal murderers to jail for the rest of their lives.

“I think people in Britain will be glad that our courts have disagreed with the European Court of Human Rights and upheld the law the UK Parliament has passed.”

Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, who headed the panel, said the court had held that the ability of judges to pass whole-life orders was “entirely compatible” with the European Convention on Human Rights.

52 English prisoners are currently serving whole-life sentences. The latest to receive the terms are the serial killer Dale Cregan, jailed last year for the murders of four people including policewomen Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone in Manchester, and Mark Bridger who killed five-year-old April Jones, from Machynlleth, Powys, in 2012.

The issue arose in October when Mr Justice Sweeney jailed McLoughlin for 40 years, telling the Old Bailey he did not have the power to pass a whole life order because he had to take account of a previous ECHR ruling.

But the Court of Appeal said the law allowed him to impose a “life means life” sentence.

The McLoughlin sentence was referred to the court for review by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve.

The former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, who introduced whole-tariffs said common sense had prevailed and proved judges were “not prepared to simply bow down to the rulings of the Strasbourg court but to seek rational interpretation of them”.

But Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the campaign group Liberty, said: “The judgment shows how Government has been misleading the public about human rights.

“They said the European court was dominating British ones - not true. And they said judges were dominating policy - another big lie.”