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
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

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
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing