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

Deputy Political Editor

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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat