Killers' life terms 'breached their human rights'
Jeremy Bamber's appeal was heard with that of two other men
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled the whole life tariffs given to murderer Jeremy Bamber and two other killers breached their human rights.
The court ruled there had to be both a possibility of release and review to be compatible with their human rights.
However it said this did not mean there was "any prospect of imminent release".
Bamber, along with Peter Moore and Douglas Vinter, argued their sentences were "inhuman" and they should have the right to a review.
The three men had lost a previous legal battle at the European court and now its grand chamber has had a final say.
BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said the grand chamber's decision was convincing, in that they ruled by 16-1.
He said the move was significant both legally and politically, and it would now have to be considered by the UK government.
BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani said it would probably require Parliament to create a system to allow the Parole Board to review whole life orders.
They are among a group of 49 people in England and Wales who are serving whole life tariffs.
This means they cannot be released other than at the discretion of the justice secretary on compassionate grounds - for example, if they are terminally ill or seriously incapacitated.
They claimed that being denied any prospect of release was a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
What is a whole life tariff?
- Offenders who receive a whole life tariff cannot be released other than at the discretion of the justice secretary on compassionate grounds - for example, if they are terminally ill or seriously incapacitated
- They are not eligible for a parole review or release
- However, prisoners can have their sentence reduced on appeal
- The sentence is reserved for offenders judged to be the most dangerous to society
- 49 people are currently serving whole life tariffs
- These include the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and Moors Murderer Ian Brady
- Serial killer Rosemary West is the only woman currently serving a whole life sentence
- The most recent murderers to receive the sentence are Mark Bridger, who killed five-year-old April Jones, and Dale Cregan, who murdered two police officers
The case was referred to the grand chamber after the men narrowly lost their first European Court hearing in 2012: three of the seven judges ruled in their favour.
The court's first ruling concluded that the men's sentences were not "grossly disproportionate".
Bamber was jailed for murdering five members of his family in Essex in 1985.
He has always protested his innocence and claims his schizophrenic sister Sheila Caffell shot her family before turning the gun on herself.
Moore killed four gay men for his sexual gratification in north Wales in 1995.
In 2008, Vinter, from Middlesbrough, admitted killing his wife Anne White. He had been released from prison in 2005 after serving nine years for murdering a colleague.
Before the judges' decision was announced, Vinter's solicitor, Simon Creighton, said the appeal was not a bid to get his client or the other two killers back on the streets.
He said purpose of the legal challenge was to ensure all sentences have the right of review built into them.
"A whole life sentence without the right of review is at odds with modern democracy and sentencing," he told BBC Radio 5 live.
BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said up until 2003 all terms could be reviewed, including whole life tariffs.
Last year, the Court of Appeal in London upheld the principle of whole life sentences for the most dangerous of offenders, saying it did not breach human rights.
At the time, the Lord Chief Justice said jail without the possibility of release should be "reserved for the few exceptionally serious offences".
He said judges must be convinced those sentenced to whole life need to be held forever for punishment and retribution.
Eric Allison, a former prisoner and the Guardian's prison correspondent, told BBC Radio 5 live that the UK did not have the death penalty and the prison system was about rehabilitation and reform.
He said whole life tariffs were about "pure punishment and pure revenge and we are better than that".
"We are human beings and we are capable of change. I spent time in prison. I did not kill anybody but I have seen people who did kill turn their lives around and that's the aim of the system. That should apply to all prisoners."
Rape victim Helen Stockford's attacker was a convicted murder and she has been campaigning to ensure he now stays in prison for life. She says some criminals do not deserve a second chance.
"They are given chances after chances and it seems they cannot live in society normally," she told BBC Radio 5 live.
"I feel I am doing the life sentence, not him," she said.