ECHR Ruling: In some cases life should mean life

In exceeding the bounds of the European Convention on Human Rights, this ruling only strengthens the case for repudiating the Court in the Conservative manifesto

Share
Related Topics

The European Court of Human Rights ruling that life mustn’t mean life is a disaster for the Court and the Convention that it enforces. It ruled this morning that whole-life tariffs given to Jeremy Bamber and two other British murderers were incompatible with the Convention.

The Court’s argument is a powerful one, namely that the absence of any prospect of release is “inhuman and degrading treatment”, contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. But it is a mistake, because it is an outstanding example of how the Court has used the idea of the Convention as a “living instrument” to extend the original meaning of its drafters. When the Convention was adopted, after all, the death penalty was still on the statute book in this and other countries.

The Court’s view that even the worst of criminals should be offered the chance of rehabilitation is a noble one. It is an opinion with which I have some sympathy. But it is an opinion; it is a point of view. It is not contained in the words of the Convention and so the judges of the Court have to twist the words “inhuman and degrading” to make them mean what they say they mean.

That brings the Court into disrepute, and offends public opinion in this country. Not just because the Court has exceeded the bounds of the Convention, but because, if the argument for going beyond the words of the Convention were strong enough, it should be enacted by national parliaments. This only strengthens Theresa May and Chris Grayling, who want to put the repudiation of the Court and the Convention in the Conservative manifesto for the 2015 election.

I am a supporter of the Convention and of the UK’s membership of it. In the Abu Qatada case, for example, the Convention forced us to abide by the highest principles - we said we would not tolerate torture under any circumstances, which meant that we could not send him for trial on evidence that might have been obtained by torture.

And I’m a liberal on penal policy. I think prison is often the worst way of dealing with troubled people. But I recognise the force of “life should mean life” in, say, the 49 worst murder cases in this country. And think that going against public opinion over it is a fine illustration of Conquest’s Third Law - the best way to explain the behaviour of an organisation is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies. This ruling is precisely what you would expect the ECHR judges to do if they wanted the UK to reject the authority of their Court and thus to undermine its credibility fatally.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: Leveraged Finance - Senior Associate - International Bank - Frankfurt

Competitive + bonus: Selby Jennings: My client, a growing European CIB are loo...

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Old London Bridge; how to fight UKIP; and wolves

John Rentoul
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible