Essex: Bamber Challenges Whole-Life Jail

Jeremy Bamber, who was jailed for killing five members of his family in Essex, and two other murderers have continued their court battle against "whole-life" jail terms, which give prisoners no chance of release.

Lawyers urged judges in Strasbourg to rule that UK law allowing the most dangerous offenders to be kept behind bars until they die breaches their human rights.

The European Court of Human Rights backed the UK last January in a narrow 4-3 majority vote declaring that it was not "grossly disproportionate" for the country's notorious criminals to be imprisoned indefinitely.

And only last week, in a separate case, the London Court of Appeal upheld the principle that whole-life sentences do not violate human rights as long as jail without possibility of release is "reserved for the few exceptionally serious offences".

In the last appeal to the 17-judge Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, lawyers called for a definitive ruling that whole-life jail amounts to "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment"banned by the European Human Rights Convention.

Lawyers for the Government insisted that it was fully justified to maintain the option of the whole-life tariff for the most serious offenders, in line with the earlier human rights verdict last January.

The one-day hearing was an appeal into the cases of Douglas Vinter, convicted of stabbing his wife in February 2008, having already served nine years for stabbing to death a work colleague in 1996; Bamber, convicted of killing his adoptive parents, sister and her two young children in 1985; and Peter Moore, convicted of killing four gay men in 1995. Bamber has always maintained his innocence.

All three received whole-life jail orders, meaning they can only ever be released at the discretion of the Home Secretary on compassionate grounds, such as terminal illness or if "seriously incapacitated".

At last week's ruling in the London Court of Appeal in three separate cases, the judges upheld a whole-life sentence given to David Oakes, convicted of torturing and shooting his partner and their daughter in Essex. The judges overturned whole-life orders in the cases of two others, reducing the penalty to life with the possibility of parole.

But the appeal verdict against Oakes has been seen as a warning to the Strasbourg judges hearing Wednesday's human rights appeal cases that courts in England and Wales want to maintain the option of whole-life jail terms. The Grand Chamber verdict will not be announced until next year.