No sooner, it seems, has one judicial conflict with the European Court been removed – with the deportation of Abu Qatada to Jordan – than another unwelcome verdict lands from Strasbourg.
By 16 to one, the judges ruled yesterday that whole-life terms of imprisonment constitute inhuman and degrading treatment; such sentences must be subject to review.
From an ethical perspective, it is surely right that no prisoner is seen as beyond rehabilitation. And the court made clear that such a provision does not presuppose imminent release. Its effect would be more procedural than practical. But that does not make the ruling any more palatable to the Government, or to David Cameron, who has insisted that in the most heinous cases “life must mean life”. In truth, his difficulty with the European Court’s ruling is not judicial, but political – which, of course, only makes it that much harder to accept.