On 16th December 2013 it was announced that Mark Bridger, who was sentenced on 30th May this year to a ‘whole life tariff’ for the murder of April Jones would be trying to get the Court of Appeal to hear his application against the sentence imposed on him.
The grounds of the application have not been made public, but one of them is likely to revolve around the question of whether whole life tariffs are lawful under Article 3 of the European Convention following the ECHR judgment in Vinter v UK this summer (see here for our analysis of it).
Since then, two Judges (Sweeny J in the case of Ian McLoughlin and Flaux J in Anxiang Du) have declined to make whole life tariffs in part because of the Vinter judgment (one of these cases, Mr McLoughlin, has been referred to the Court of Appeal as being ‘unduly lenient’). This is an issue that is not a straightforward one (although given recent speeches from many of the judiciary, we can guess which way the judicial wind is blowing) and so it would be expected that Mr Bridger gets permission to appeal so that this can be resolved (see here for a factsheet on how the Court of Appeal works).
The news was given by the police to the family of April Jones today in Australia (hopefully not in person in this time of austerity) who reportedly expressed their outrage and surprise at it. Whilst it must be upsetting for them, it is not unsurprising and one would have hoped that they would have told that an appeal was inevitable. Mr Bridger has nothing to lose by trying.
It is likely that this issue of whole life tariffs will be the next judicial battleground over the ECHR (in relation to crime at least). I would not be in the least surprised if whole life tariffs are upheld by the Court of Appeal (and the Supreme Court is unlikely to take up a straight appeal against sentence). But that is not the most interesting part, when (and it’s a when, not an if) the issue goes back to the ECHR, that is when it gets much more interesting.