Whole Life Tariff Reviews by Jeremy

Earlier this year Jeremy Bamber won a ECHR Grand Chamber case to have a review inserted into his sentence: for further information catch up here. The article below was written by Jeremy during the latter half of 2012.

Whole life Tariff Reviews: “hope for the future, however tenuous that hope may be.”

On the 28th of November 2012, the European Grand Chamber will hear the appeal against my whole life tariff along with two other cases, Vinter and Moore. Firstly I need to clarify what this case is actually about. Many people have assumed that if my case in the Grand Chamber is won then my tariff

would be put back down to the original 25 years set by the trial judge. This is not the case. What my legal team has applied for is for a review to be inserted into my mandatory whole life sentence. It is my position that the UK Government is in breach of Article 3 and article 5 (4) of the European Convention on Human Rights by imposing a whole life sentence without review, this amounts to ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ But what does this actually mean? In light of the January ruling that whole life tariff's are not in breach of human rights law, the only appropriate submission my legal team could make to the Grand Chamber is that there is no problem with a government applying a mandatory whole life sentence, but the breach of Human Rights Law lies within there being no mechanism for review of the prisoner’s whole life sentence. It is then asserted, (and it is also my particular view) that a whole life order then becomes parallel with a death sentence. To order someone to die is to permanently exclude them from society and it then follows that to sentence a person to whole life imprisonment is also permanent social exclusion. Social death is a dimension of the slavery which replaced death in Classical society, and was and still is intrinsically linked to loss of liberty. [1] As I have stated many times, I have been sentenced to death by old age.

This leads us to the psychological state of those incarcerated for whole life without reviews. It has been clarified by psychologists including those assessing me that I am at continued risk of having depression brought about the prolonged environment of prison.[2] I am in total agreement about life without hope, after all hope is what keeps the human spirit alive and without hope there is nothing. For me, even with the insertion of a review there is still very little hope of release. If the Grand Chamber rule to allow me to have reviews there is no knowing at what point a review could be placed, it might be at 30 or 40 years into a sentence. As I have maintained innocence, there lies the other difficulty of reviewing my prison term in light of this. Because I have maintained innocence I have not taken part in any rehabilitation programmes and neither can I be viewed as a prisoner who has gained atonement. The judiciary and review boards see me as being in denial of guilt. So when the European Court of Human Rights ruled against my appeal at Strasbourg in Janurary 2012, the three dissenting judges emphasised that Article 3 was being infringed and their words rang true for me, “equally importantly depriving him of any hope for the future, however tenuous that hope may be.” Tenuous, really is how I feel about this ruling even if we win in the Grand Chamber. After this digression, nevertheless the argument my lawyers have put forward is that this treatment, taking into account psychological effects does amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. To this I have to agree wholeheartedly, respect for ‘hope’ an essential dimension of human dignity does underpin the protection of human rights. [3]

In the USA and China the death penalty still exists in contrast to Canada where there is no death penalty and no whole life sentencing. The USA, similarly to England and Wales currently has the sentence of ‘Life Without Parole’ (LWOP) and in Florida the US Supreme Court commented broadly on the destructive impact of this sentence “It deprives the convict of the most basic liberties without giving hope of restoration.[4]

If you have always felt that England and Wales are soft on sentencing then think again because the statistics show otherwise. The position is that all majority state parties of Europe rule that life sentences must have reviews.[5] Only England and Wales and Hungary have an authentically irreducible whole life sentence, England and Wales with almost 21 times more life sentenced prisoners than any other single European country and We currently have more whole life sentence prisoners than all of Europe put together. [6] The first whole life tariff in the UK was set in 1988, and in 2003 reviews at executive discretion for these prisoners was abolished (under a Labour government).[7]Although Scotland’s sentencing is generally similar to England and Wales their human rights laws were brought into line with Europe at the time of the devolution of powers.[8]

Whole life tariff prisoners cannot be subject to a prerogative pardon. The only mechanism for release of a prisoner (other than to overturn their conviction) on a whole life sentence in England and Wales is granted in exceptional circumstances, where the prisoner is medically incapacitated with death to occur within 3 months and no life sentence prisoner has ever been released under this or any other power in England and Wales. This exception compounds the view that a whole life sentence is literally a death sentence.[9]

As I am not guilty of the crimes I have been convicted of carrying out, where do I fit in all of this? Currently the only avenue to appeal is through the politically controlled quango of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. When this avenue is exhausted because the commission has usurped the role of the appeal courts and is in violation of the Criminal Appeals act 1995, and non disclosure of evidential materials still prevails, surely this is a violation of both Article 3 and 5(4) of European Human Rights Law, and should be taken into consideration when assessing whole life sentences. As crime is intrinsically tied to sentencing it is axiomatic that the problem of Miscarriage of Justice cases could be expanded within this framework simply because a Miscarriage of Justice in UK law does not allow for innocence but only a “miscarriage of due process.”[10]

If we are to believe the statistics quoted by Dr Michael Naughton as opposed to the Government’s ‘massaged figures’ we face a very worrying situation indeed. Naughton reveals that there are no less than 18 convictions a day overturned in the UK which is an astonishing figure warranting a full review of the causes of wrongful convictions.[11] Indeed Naughton himself states: “miscarriages of justice as understood from the perspective of the legal system are not the exception to the rule, rather they are a routine and even mundane feature of the criminal justice process.”[12]

It is of course, with my own conviction and these statistics in mind when I consider what a whole life sentence means to the individuals living a ‘social death’ as I do each day. But whatever happens on the 28th of November this year it will make little difference to my current life, release for me with my conviction intact means no life at all. There is only one freedom and one hope for me and that is that the truth of my innocence will be heard in a court of Law allowing me the liberty I have been fighting for.


[1] Patterson, O. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982

[2] Dr Anderson Report, 2006

[3] “reintergrationist” versus “exclusionary” types of imprisonment, Dolovich, pg 13 & 122; Life Without Parole, Ed Ogletree and Sarat, NYU Press, 2012. Absence of a “dignity tradition” comparative study USA, Europe, pg 19 & 282-310, op cit.

[4] Graham v Florida 130, S.Ct. 2011, 2021 (2010) at 2027 & Naovarath v State, 105 Nev. 525, 526, 779 P.2d 944 (1989), at pg 4 &40

[5] http://treaties.un.org & UN report on Life Imprisonment (1994)

[6] Stats prisoners serving life or IPP http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/statistics/prison-probation/omsq/omsq-q1-2012.pdf, The Howard,Newsletter of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Summer 2009, http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/prisons/ & Hansard, Baroness Stern at Col 448 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/

[7] Provisions of CJA 2003

[8] Convention rights (Compliance) (Scotland) Act 2001 c.7

[9] PSO, 4700, para, 12.2.1

[10] Naughton, M. Rethinking Miscarriages of Justice, 2012 edition, Palgrave, Basingstoke, pp 21-24

[11] Daily average in Crown Court, CACD (including referrals from the CCRC) and House of Lords, 18.21, op cit.

[12] Ibid pg 4